The Exclamation Mark
The exclamation mark (!), known informally as a bang or a shriek, is used at the end of a sentence or a short phrase which expresses very strong feeling. Here are some examples:
- What a lovely view you have here!
- That's fantastic!
- Johnny, don't touch that!
- Good heavens!
- That's fantastic!
Examples like these are quite normal in those kinds of writing that try to represent ordinary speech — for example, in novels. But exclamation marks are usually out of place in formal writing. Using them frequently will give your work a breathless, almost childish, quality.
An exclamation mark is also usual after an exclamation beginning with what or how:
- What fools people can be!
- How well Marshall bowled yesterday!
Note that such sentences are exclamations, and not statements. Compare them with statements:
- People can be such fools.
- Marshall bowled very well yesterday.
You can also use an exclamation mark to show that a statement is very surprising:
- After months of careful work, the scientists finally opened the tomb. It was empty!
It is also permissible to use an exclamation mark to draw attention to an interruption:
- On the (rare!) occasion when you use a Latin abbreviation, be sure to punctuate it properly.
Otherwise, you should generally avoid using exclamation marks in your formal writing. Don't write things like this:
- *Do not use exclamation marks in formal writing!
- *In 1848, gold was discovered in California!
Don't use an exclamation mark unless you're certain it's necessary — and never use two or three of them in a row:
- *This is a sensational result!!!
This sort of thing is all right in personal letters, but it is completely out of place in formal writing.
Summary of exclamation marks:
- Don't use an exclamation mark unless it's absolutely necessary.
- Use an exclamation mark after an exclamation, especially after one beginning with what or how.
Copyright © Larry Trask, 1997
Maintained by the Department of Informatics, University of Sussex