When to use an exclamation mark

Punctuation marks Writing Tips

The exclamation mark or point is used instead of a full stop at the end of a sentence to provide emphasis.

It is used more commonly in informal English than in standard or formal writing, hence why you see it more in creative writing and informal communications such as email. You’ll see plenty of  exclamation marks on social media which can be a very emotive platform for expressing ideas, opinions and controversy…

In creative writing, exclamation marks accompany interjections such as wow, ouch and oh, but most times, it is commonly used to convey an emotion.

Knowing when to use an exclamation mark helps writers insert correct punctuation at the end of a sentence: use an exclamation mark after an expression of surprise, disbelief, indignation and exasperation as seen in the following examples:-

– That cannot be true!

– If only he would listen to me!

– How wonderful to see you after all these years!

Sometimes an exclamation mark is used to give emphasis to greetings, wishes and orders:-

– Good evening friends!

– All rise!

– Wouldn’t it be great to win Tattslotto!

Reading a story that overuses exclamation marks is a bit like watching actors shout their lines, which can be an annoying and unpleasant experience. It’s better to use one exclamation at a time because adding more doesn’t really add any extra emphasis to what your characters are saying.

The other problem with overusing exclamation marks in creative writing is that they are “telling” rather than “showing” a story as the author is relying on them as a shortcut for using describing words to engage the reader.

The use of exclamation marks in less formal communication media such as mobile phone texting, emails and social media is more prevalent. Here you will see the number of exclamation marks increase depending on the level of emphasis the writer wants to convey.

Whilst in these situations the exclamation mark is more acceptable, the writer should still use it carefully and keep context in mind. What is an appropriate response to a friend in a text might not be appropriate for an email to a professor or business acquaintance.

So, how many exclamation marks are too many?

There is no formal response to this, suffice to say that too many make reading difficult and distracting, and as a writer, you do not want to distract the reader!

Some online research revealed the following, which may help:-

“One exclamation mark indicates the punchline to a joke or a cheery reposte, two or more indicates extreme disbelief or to herald a celebratory/positive announcement. The amount of disbelief or celebration is proportional to the total number of exclamation marks. ” I like this.

Another site came up with this:-

“To help us all get back on the same page, as it were, maybe we can all agree on a way to gauge the appropriate amount of exclamation, let’s call it an Exclamation Scale:-

!- Something really important or exciting has occurred is about to occur. e.g. “So excited to see you!” or “Congratulations!”

!!- Something exceptional has occurred or is about to occur. e.g. “So excited to see you for the first time in ten years!! or “Congratulations on scaling Mt. Everest!!”

!!!- A minor emergency has occurred or is about to occur. e.g. “The basement flooded and we need a plumber ASAP!!!” or “Help!!!”

!!!!- A once-in-a-lifetime event has occurred or is about to occur. e.g. “Jane just went into labor!!!!” or “It’s a boy!!!!”

This is good too.

What do you think? How many exclamation marks do you think are acceptable? Or is the sky the limit?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’d love to know. Why not send a message via the Contact page.