Exclamation Marks

Westward Ho!

It is impossible to say this town’s name without sounding like you’re suggesting a galleon-based voyage towards it.

The key point with exclamation marks is to use them sparingly, otherwise they will lose their impact. There are three main uses:

1. Exclamation marks can be used to indicate an exclaimed sentence: ‘With a gorilla in a hot air balloon! A hot air balloon of all things!’

2. In speech they show that something is shouted or said loudly: ‘Get that gorilla back in its enclosure!’

3. They can also be used to indicate that a statement is intended to be humorous: ‘I couldn’t tell if it was him or the hippo that had made the mess!’

However, if the humour is evident without the exclamation mark, it is often more amusing and stylish to dead pan.

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

With this many exclamation marks how could this not be a prudent fiscal move?

With this many exclamation marks how could this not be a prudent fiscal move?

The main issue that occurs is over-use. Please don’t use more than one at a time. If you feel that you need to give more emphasis to a sentence than others that already have one exclamation mark, it is likely that the original sentences didn’t require exclamation marks at all. I associate multiple exclamation marks with dodgy advertising; my spam folder is full of exclamation marks.

It is often better when meaning is conveyed through content. Do it with your words, not with your punctuation.

How do you feel about exclamation marks? Do you use them in your writing? Leave me a comment.


Filed under Common Errors, Proofreading, Writing

2 responses to “Exclamation Marks

  1. I think there is a Terry Pratchett book where one of the signs of a character’s growing madness is the number of exclamation marks after their sentences. It’s a clever literary joke: dialogue is often followed by three exclamation marks, which warns other characters that this is a borderline mad person. When it creeps up to five, they have clearly tipped over into lunacy.

    And I have a huge problem with “Memoirs of a Geisha” because of the number of exclamation marks used. I figure that because the author is male and the protagonist / narrator is female, this indicates that the author thinks women speak in a fatuous, overblown way all the time. God, I hate that book and all its extraneous exclamation marks…….!!!


    • I noticed the same thing in Memoirs of a Geisha. I hadn’t made the gender connection before, but now you mention it…!

      That’s really interesting about the Terry Pratchett book – I’ll have to hunt that down. He’s got it spot on – the more that are used, the loopier the writer seems!


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