Exclamation Point usage
Exclamation points are used to express strong emotions in exclamatory sentences, imperative sentences, and interjections. Additionally, you will sometimes need to use an exclamation point in combination with quotation marks or periods. Lastly, there are more casual uses of exclamation points that would be appropriate only for informal, conversational writing but never for formal writing.
Use an exclamation point at the end of exclamatory sentences
Use an exclamation point at the end of an exclamatory sentence to indicate strong emotion, such as surprise, anger, fear, excitement, etc.
- They stole all our furniture!
- Watch out for that shark!
- Today is my birthday!
Add emphasis to an imperative sentence with an exclamation point
Imperative sentences make a direct command or request. We can put a strong emphasis on the command or request by replacing the period with an exclamation point.
1. Imperative sentences showing no emphasis on the command or request:
- Don’t walk on the grass.
- Have that report ready by noon.
- Stay out of my room.
2. Exclamatory sentences showing strong emphasis on the command or request:
- Don’t walk on the grass!
- Have that report ready by noon!
- Stay out of my room!
Use an exclamation point with an interjection
Interjections, also called exclamations, are words, phrases, or sounds that are used to indicate strong emotion, such as surprise, excitement, happiness, or anger. An interjection is not grammatically related to any other part of the sentence. An exclamatory sentence sometimes comes before, but usually comes after, an interjection.
- Whoopee! I’m going to the show tonight!
- Eww! I hate raw fish!
- That was an impressive performance! Congratulations!
- You got a perfect score on your exam! That’s awesome!
Using an exclamation point after a period
If an abbreviation appears at the end of an exclamatory sentence, add an exclamation point immediately after the period of the abbreviation, with no space between them.
- We didn’t get to sleep last night until 2 a.m.!
- I can’t believe you met Cuba Gooding Jr.!
- I’m being audited by the I.R.S.!
Using an exclamation point with quotation marks
1. Sometimes a quotation will be used in a sentence. If the quotation is a complete exclamatory sentence that can stand on its own, place the exclamation point inside the quotation marks.
- She replied, “I’ve never stolen anything in my entire life!”
- The angry prisoners shouted, “Let us out of here!”
- One of my coworkers bemoaned, “We have to work on New Year’s Day!”
2. If the quotation cannot stand on its own as a complete sentence and is merely part of a larger, exclamatory sentence, the exclamation point should be placed outside the quotation marks.
- Don’t tell me to “be quiet”!
- We don’t give away “free cash”!
- It’s not always so easy to “just take the high road”!
Using an exclamation point with italicized text
1. We often use italicized text to indicate the titles of books, movies, or music albums. If the exclamation point is actually part of the original book title, movie title, or album title, it should be italicized as well.
- The movie, Great Balls of Fire!, is about the life and career of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis.
- One of my favorite children’s books is Horton Hears a Who!
- Help! is the fifth studio album by English rock band the Beatles.
Note that if the title appears at the end of the sentence (as in the second sentence above) do not add a period at the end. The exclamation point acts to terminate the sentence.
2. If an exclamation point is used as part of a larger exclamatory sentence and is not part of the title itself, the exclamation point should not be italicized. The original titles below do not contain an exclamation point.
- We can’t wait to see The Wizard of Oz!
- I was afraid to go to sleep after reading the horror novel The Shining!
- My mind was blown upon hearing Jimi Hendrix’s debut album Are You Experienced!
Informal uses of exclamation points
There are other less formal uses of exclamation points that are appropriate only for casual, conversational writing. You would never use an exclamation point in these ways for any kind of formal writing.
Using an exclamation point with a question mark
In conversational writing, you will sometimes see an exclamation point following a question mark to emphasize excitement or surprise about the question being asked.
- What did you say to me?!
- How did you get in here?!
- Why do I have to pay for your mistake?!
Using exclamation points with parentheses
1. Place the exclamation point inside the parentheses if it applies only to the words inside the parentheses and not the rest of the sentence.
- The fisherman was not aware he had caught a (great white shark!)
2. Place the exclamation mark outside the parentheses if it applies to the entire sentence.
- The billionaire businessman tipped the waitress $10,000 (cash)!
Using multiple exclamation points to put extra emphasis on an exclamatory sentence
In casual, informal writing, you can add more than one exclamation point to put extra emphasis on an exclamatory sentence.
- I can’t believe I won the lottery!!!
- Watch out for the falling tree!!
Using an exclamation point with onomatopoeia
Onomatopoeia (pronounced [on-uh-mat-uh-pee-uh]) is a word or group of words that when spoken out loud tries to imitate the sound it describes. This can be very useful in written English, because it helps the writer describe sounds accurately, and it makes writing much more interesting and lively. It is common practice to italicize onomatopoeia to put extra emphasis on them when spoken out loud. We can also intensify the volume of onomatopoeia by using an exclamation point.
- With a deafening whirr!, the ambulance passed us and sped through the traffic lights.
- The crowd cheered as the race cars went vroom! when the drivers revved their engines.
- The explosion rocked the city with a loud kaboom!
Notice in the first sentence that the exclamation point does not terminate the sentence; therefore, the following word is not capitalized, and a comma is placed after the exclamation point and is not italicized. Also, if an onomatopoeia comes at the end of a sentence, there is no need to add a period after the exclamation point.