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Exclamation Point (or Exclamation Mark): How It’s Used

Updated on September 16, 2022Grammar

The exclamation point, also called an exclamation mark, is a punctuation mark that goes at the end of certain sentences. It’s less common than the period or question mark, but it’s very easy to use. Some might say it’s too easy to use.

What is an exclamation point for?

Periods go at the end of declarative sentences, question marks go at the end of interrogative sentences, and exclamation points go at the end of exclamatory sentences. An exclamatory sentence is one that expresses a strong or forceful emotion, such as anger, surprise, or joy.

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I got a perfect score on the SAT!

Get out of my sight!

Exclamation points are also commonly found with sentence fragments or sudden interjections. Occasionally, you might see one at the end of a sentence that is phrased as a question.

Careful! That spider is poisonous.

Holy cow!

How could I have forgotten to pack underwear!

Exclamatory quotations

Using an exclamation point is usually quite simple—you just put it at the end of the sentence. But it can get a little tricky when you also have a quotation mark at the end of the sentence. Here are the rules:

Put the exclamation point inside the closing quotation marks if it applies to the words enclosed by the quotation marks.

“There’s a spider on my arm!” yelped Jeremy.

If the exclamation point applies to the sentence as a whole, then place it at the very end.

And then the paramedics tried to tell Jeremy it was “only a spider”!

Exclamation points and parentheses

Put the exclamation point inside the parentheses when it applies to the words inside the parentheses.

Jeremy didn’t find out until later what kind of spider it was (a black widow!).

Put the exclamation point outside the parentheses if it applies to the whole sentence.

They settled out of court and Jeremy got a million dollars (cash)!

Using exclamation points and parentheses this way is relatively rare.

Exclamation abuse

The hardest thing about using an exclamation point is probably knowing when not to use one. In writing, it’s often hard to convey the emotion and intent behind a simple statement. If you spoke the words “I can’t believe you threw me a surprise party” aloud, it would be clear from the tone of your voice and body language whether you meant this as an expression of gratitude or reproach. An exclamation point can help make it clear by conveying your excitement: “I can’t believe you threw me a surprise party!”

But using too many exclamation marks makes them less effective. F. Scott Fitzgerald said that using exclamation marks is like laughing at your own jokes. After a while, your readers will simply ignore them, or worse, become annoyed by them. On top of that, they’re considered to be relatively casual, so using them in business or formal academic writing is a no-no. Instead of relying on exclamation points to convey your urgency or excitement, use more vivid vocabulary. Instead of “Make sure you finish this by tomorrow morning!” try “It’s crucial that you finish this before tomorrow morning’s deadline.”

Congratulations! You just learned everything you need to know about exclamation points.

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