How to Use an Exclamation Point Properly Header Image

The exclamation mark, also known as the exclamation point, is a frequently used punctuation mark in the English language.

Although it’s not as common as the period or question mark, it serves it own purpose in the written text. 

How to Use an Exclamation Point

Adding exclamation points to your writing is pretty simple, but you need to be conscious of when and how you use them, because they usually add emphasis and change the tone of your sentences.

Follow these steps to ensure that your use of exclamation points is effective and appropriate.

1. Know the different types of sentences.

To review, let’s first look at the different kinds of sentences and the punctuation marks that should go with each. This will help you determine whether an exclamation point is really necessary for your sentence.

Declarative

This sentence states a fact and ends in a period. 

Examples: 

  • Water boils at 100 degrees Centigrade. 
  • The winter was particularly harsh that year. 
  • Breastfeeding helps boost your baby’s immune system. 

Interrogative

This sentence asks a question and ends in a question mark. 

Examples: 

  • How did your meeting go? 
  • Did the birds already fly south? 
  • How long have you had your pet beagle? 

Imperative

This sentence gives a command and ends with a period, a question mark, or an exclamation mark. 

Examples: 

  • Would you mind watching the kids while I go inside? 
  • Please give me time. 
  • Run! 

Exclamatory

This sentence expresses a strong emotion, such as joy, surprise, or anger, and ends with an exclamation mark. 

Examples: 

  • Fire! 
  • There’s no way I’m letting him fool me again! 
  • How dare she make up those stories about me! 

2. To create an exclamatory sentence or an imperative stated with strong emotion, simply add an exclamation point at the end. 

Examples:

  • There was a snake in the grass!
  • I can’t believe she told you that!
  • And the winner is… Miss Teen Australia! 

3. To quote exclamatory or imperative sentences, place the exclamation point inside the quotation marks. 

Examples:

  • “The house is on fire!” she shouted, running down the street. 
  • “That’s not fair! I hate you!” Tommy yelled at his mother. 
  • Melissa cupped her hand over her mouth and called, “Help! The boat is sinking!” 

4. If a sentence contains a quote but the exclamation refers to the sentence as a whole, leave the exclamation mark for the end of the sentence. 

Examples:

  • She told me it was “no big deal”! 
  • He ran down the street yelling “It’s the end of the world!” like some crazy Chicken Little figure! 
  • The tsunami washed away everything on the beach (tourists and all)! 

5. If the exclamation is meant for words inside parentheses, include the exclamation mark within said parentheses. 

Examples:

  • Did she tell you she found a rare bird (the Sulu hornbill!) in her backyard? 
  • He only bought one (only one!) lottery ticket and won the million-dollar prize. 
  • The spider he found (a black widow!) must have escaped. 

6. Never use more than one exclamation mark, unless you’re writing a comic book.

Sometimes we may get carried away and want to use two or more exclamation marks to indicate the intensity of your emotion. The rule of thumb is: don’t do it!!!!!!!! 

See how informal the above sentence feels? These types of sentences only work in comic books and other casual correspondence. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald made an important point when he said that using exclamation marks is akin to laughing at your own jokes. If you overdo it, your readers will no longer pay attention to them. 

7. Refrain from using exclamation marks in business writing. 

Exclamation marks are meant for more casual conversation, so avoid using them in business or academic writing. If you want to convey urgency, use your words to do so. 

Compare the following two sentences and see which one matches a more business-like feel: 

  • Make sure you submit your report by this Friday! 
  • It’s highly imperative that you submit your report by this Friday. 

Both of them express the urgency of the matter, but the first sentence sounds like a nagging mother. The second one is more business-like in tone. 

8. Use an interrobang (?!) only in informal settings. 

When someone wants to combine the functions of an exclamation mark with a question mark, as in the case of asking something with great surprise, you might see one of these signs: !?, !?, ?!?, or !?!. 

Take note that the interrobang (also known as the interabang) is only acceptable in informal settings, such as in comic books or casual notes. 

Exclamation Point Quiz 

Test your knowledge with this free Exclamation Point Quiz PDF, by indicating whether the following sentences use it correctly or not. Write “Correct” for the sentences that use it correctly. For those that used it improperly, rewrite the sentence to its corrected form. 

  1. Did you tell him my message! 

2. Watch out, the baby’s near the edge of the pool! 

3. I have received the timeline for your project proposal. Get started on it as soon as possible, as the first deadline is already this weekend! I will not tolerate tardiness in this matter! 

4. I heard someone yelling “Help, help”!

5. The captain didn’t know anyone had fallen overboard, except for the “Splash!” sound that he heard. 

6. Why in the world did do you do that! 

7. I need the money right now! 

8. How dare she say I’m “slow in the head”! 

9. The homeschoolers had a great time, and even spotted a rare bird (the frigate!). 

10. Will you please turn down that noise! 

Answer Key 

  1. Did you tell him my message? 

2. Correct

3. I have received the timeline for your project proposal. Get started on it as soon as possible, as the first deadline is already this weekend. I will not tolerate tardiness in this matter. 

4. I heard someone yelling, “Help, help!” 

5. Correct

6. Why in the world did you do that? 

7. Correct, in informal usage

8. Correct

9. Correct

10. Will you please turn down that noise? 

Are Exclamation Marks Rude?

In formal writing, or in professional settings such as work emails or memos, an overuse of exclamation points might come across as rude or unprofessional, mostly when they are used with imperative sentences or to state something negative.

To avoid miscommunication, be sure to use exclamation points sparingly and only when necessary so you don’t sound overly aggressive in formal settings.

Using Exclamation Points in Writing

Now that you know how to use the exclamation point properly, you will be able to communicate more clearly and in the appropriate manner, especially in formal settings. 

For more tips on when and how to use exclamation points in fiction, check out our post on using emphasis effectively so you can be sure to match your intended tone.

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