Wondering what exclamation points are? Or perhaps you just want to find out when and how to use them. Either way, you're in the right place. This article will teach you everything you need to know.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
Exclamation points - also known as exclamation marks - are end punctuation marks, just like periods and question marks. This means you use them at the end of a sentence to show that the sentence is complete.
A punctuation mark always tells you about the tone of the sentence. That's because when you speak aloud, it's easy to tell by the tone of your voice which emotions you are feeling. However, you can't do the same with writing, which is why we use punctuation marks instead. The exclamation point indicates a strong emotion, as opposed to a period that tends to remain quite neutral.
Look at the two following sentences for example:
I feel fine.
I feel fine!
While the first sentence is a simple statement, the second sentence seems to communicate irritation. Perhaps the person's been asked the question several times and is exasperated to keep repeating themselves.
In any case, let's take a closer look at when to use exclamatory sentences.
The first and most obvious instance where it's relevant to use exclamation points is with exclamatory sentences, which express strong emotions and feelings.
Here are some examples of those types of sentences:
Oh wow, that's great news!
Fine, I'll go without you!
That was such a great show!
Exclamation points are also commonly used with interjections.
There are two kinds: primary interjections, which are made-up words, and secondary interjections, which are actual words that take on a new meaning.
Congrats on your new job! Woot woot!
Whoa! That's so impressive.
Good Lord! That's a large snake.
You can also occasionally use exclamation points with imperative sentences. These sentences give commands, so remember they're already quite forceful. Adding an exclamation point only adds to that, so use your discretion to determine whether an exclamation point is warranted.
Here are some examples of imperative sentences that use an exclamation point:
Get out of my sight!
Leave me alone!
Don't walk on the grass!
One more way you can use exclamation points is to put them in between brackets and use them in the middle of a sentence. It's a way to show the reader your astonishment about the point you just made without dwelling on it.
I bumped into Ed yesterday with his new girlfriend (!) and he looked well.
In the above example, the central idea of the sentence is that the writer bumped into Ed, not that Ed has a new girlfriend. Nonetheless, the (!) after mentioning the new girlfriend is a way to show that the writer was perhaps a little surprised to discover this, or they want to draw attention to this fact.
Now that you know when to use an exclamation point, there are a few rules of thumb you're going to want to know to make sure you're using them correctly.
I mentioned earlier that an exclamation point is an end punctuation mark, meaning it always ends the sentence. There is an exception to this rule. When the last part of the sentence is an exclamatory quote, the exclamation point will come before the quotation marks, and the quotation marks will end the sentence.
Here's an example:
I'm going to have dinner and watch "Girls, Girls, Girls!".
The exclamation point in this sentence applies to the words within the quotation marks and not the broader sentence, as it isn't, in fact, an exclamatory sentence but just a regular declarative one. This is why the exclamation point goes within the quotation marks and not at the end of the sentence.
Case in point:
You told me to "play it cool"!
The rules are pretty straightforward when using exclamation points around parentheses (also called 'brackets'), but they're still worth reviewing just to be sure you know them.
If the exclamation point relates to the words within the parentheses, then the exclamation point goes inside the brackets as such:
He got himself a new mobile (the latest iPhone!).
If the exclamation point relates to the broader sentence, the exclamation point resides outside the brackets.
He went out and got himself the latest iPhone (finally)!
The final rule I wanted to run by you is more of a guideline: to use exclamation points sparingly. If you use it too often, it will lose its impact on your readers, as they'll assume you're just excited about everything! On top of that, it's a little annoying.
Take the following sentence, for example:
Hi Theresa! That report is ready for you! It'll be on your desk when you arrive at the office!
There's really nothing exciting about any of these sentences. Unless maybe the second one, if the report's been a long time coming, or it's a report that Theresa has been looking forward to. But there's definitely no need for an exclamation point at the end of all three sentences.
So before using an exclamation point, ask yourself if your sentence really warrants one. Think to yourself - am I excited, angry, appalled, or surprised by this? If yes, knock yourself out. If not, go with a simple period.
That concludes this article on the exclamation point, what it is, and how to use it. I hope you found it helpful.
Let's summarize what we've learned:
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