Properly Punctuated: Exclamation Mark

Posted August 31, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Properly Punctuated, Self-Editing, Writing

Revised as of:
30 Dec 2016

When I first got into the exclamation mark, I figured it would be a slam dunk. Ha! The more I explored, the more I was reminded of all the ways in which we use ! And I use most of ’em!

In general, avoid using it in formal, academic, or newspaper writing. It’s quite acceptable in informal writing while all sorts of variations exist in the very informal.

Lately, its use in very informal writing has become almost a requirement — including its combined forms of !!, !!!!!! *grin*, !?, and ?! — all of which convey your thoughts or feelings about what you’ve written.

Punctuation is…

…the proper use of quotation marks, commas, semicolons, colons, ellipsis, etc., including how to properly mark dialog, ahem. As Properly Punctuated is in no way complete, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone…

If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page — and consider sharing this Properly Punctuated tidbit with friends by tweeting it.

Exclamation Mark, !
Credit to: English Club; Capital Community College Foundation; Wikipedia
Punctuation: !
Definition: Put at the end of an emphatic declaration, interjection, command, or indicate high volume. It can also be repeated or combined with a question mark to convey emotion.

CAUTION: Best to avoid using this in formal writing, including academics and newspaper writing.


A.k.a., exclamation point

Strong Feeling
Raised Voice
Rule: Ends a sentence indicating surprise, joy, fear, or any other extreme emotion. Be aware that its use can emulate shouting or raising your voice.

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“I hate you, you bastard!” she cried.

This book is incredible!

“Did you see that?” he asked. “That dog was amazing!”

Dialogue Rule: If an exclamation mark is used to end a sentence within quotation marks, do not use a comma.

For greater detail, read the post on “Dialogue“.

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Right Wrong
“Call for help!” Jane cried. “Call for help!,” Jane cried.
Interjection Definition: A short utterance that usually expresses emotion and is capable of standing alone.

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Hi, babe! What’s happenin’?
Oh, no!
Help, help!
Non-Question Sentence Rule: A non-question sentence is often an exclamation and requires an exclamation mark.

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What a great book!
How stupid can you be!
Can you believe what they did!
Program-ming Rule: Used for a variety of reasons in computer programming:

  • HTML – emphasizes that the browser MUST use this code
  • Logical negation
  • UNIX scripting
  • Other programming languages

A.k.a., bang

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background: #c9de96 !important;

A != B means “A is not equal to B”

!A means “the logical negation of A” (also called “not A”)

The “#!” is usually called a hash-bang or shebang.

Proper Names Rule: When used as part of a proper name, treat the exclamation mark as you would treat the rest of the name, except if you end a sentence with it. Then use that as the ending punctuation.
Part of a Name Rule: Treat an exclamation mark in the same way you treat the name, think of it as that name’s ending letter.

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I’m using Yahoo! mail.

I used to work at Yahoo!

My cousin lives in Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! in Canada.

Part of a Title Rule: If an exclamation mark is part of an italicized or underlined title, the exclamation mark is also italicized or underlined.

CAUTION: If the exclamation mark is NOT part of an italicized or underlined title, don’t italicize or underline it.

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My favorite book is Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I’ve asked you not to sing La Marseillaise!

Pink’s Greatest Hits… So Far!!! was released in 2010.

Informal Writing
VERY Informal Writing Rule: Personal letters, notes, text messages, and/or emails sometimes use multiple exclamation marks. These days, it’s considered polite to use an exclamation mark as it indicates to the person you’re sending the message to that you’re excited about it or them.

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C u there!!

You have got to check out this link!!!

Bangorrhea Definition: “The overuse of exclamation points in a vain and failing attempt to make your writing sound more exciting.” Dang, and here I thought I was only conveying my own emotional state about what I was writing…

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Can you believe this?!!


Emphasize a Sound Rule: An exclamation mark will often accompany imitated sounds.

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Jean loves waking up in the morning, listening to the birds chirp! and tweet! their hearts out.

“The bear went grr!, and I went left.”

Emphasize a Word Rule: Insert an exclamation mark within parentheses to emphasize a word within a sentence.

NOTE: There is no space between the last letter of the emphasized word and the starting parenthesis.

CAUTION: Do NOT use in formal text.

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There’s a sale(!) on cashmere sweaters at Nordstrom’s.
Interabang, Rule: ?! and !? are used to express some question, excitement, surprise, or disbelief, depending upon the order in which the punctuation marks are used (Nancy Owens Barnes’ “Exclamation Mark: Its Use and Abuse!):

  • The first punctuation mark is your first reaction, or what you would use if you could only use one mark:
    • ?! – surprise followed by excitement
    • !? – excitement followed by surprise

While the ‽ is available, its use is very infrequent with preference going to the ?! or the !?

A.k.a., interrobang

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Example Expresses… Means
I am adopted?! shock then surprise Huh, what?
Thank god! I knew they couldn’t be my real parents!
You did what to the dog!? too funny then not really nice Teasing him with that treat was pretty funny!
How would you like it if I kept you away from your beer?
What are you doing?! surprise then disbelief Why would you do that?
I can’t believe you did that!
You got married?! total surprise then good feelings I can’t believe it.
You got married!
You got married!? happiness then confusion That’s great, you got married!
You got married?

The chess notations, ?! indicates an iffy move while !? indicates a risky yet interesting move.

Irony, Definition: Reversed question mark used at the end of a question that does not require an answer. Its use died out in the 17th century.

You may want to explore the post, “Figure of Speech: Irony” for a different perspective.

A.k.a., rhetorical question mark

That’ll work⸮
You’re so clever⸮
Warning Rule: Emphasize a precautionary statement that draws attention to a warning of danger, hazards, or the unexpected.

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In comic books and comics in general, a large exclamation point is often used near or over a character’s head to indicate surprise.

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