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The Written Word March 2009

Exclamations and Exclamation Marks


The dictionary defines an exclamation as a sharp or sudden utterance or a vehement expression of protest or complaint. The word comes from a verb meaning to cry out or speak with strong sudden emotion, to speak loudly or vehemently.


The exclamation point, sometimes called an exclamation mark (!) is the punctuation used following an exclamation.


What the Experts Say

 The Chicago manual of style, an essential guide for writers, editors and publishers says, "An exclamation point is used to mark an outcry or an emphatic or ironic comment.  To avoid detracting from its effectiveness, however, the author should use this punctuation sparingly."


The Associated Press Style Book, another reference used extensively in publishing, also warns against overusing the exclamation point, and suggests the use of a comma after mild interjections and a period at the end of mildly exclamatory sentences.


In his book "A Dash of Style," Noah Lukeman says the exclamation point has been referred to as the period that blew its top, and that it is useful to indicate a direct command, someone shouting, a verbal expression of extreme surprise, extreme pain, or anger. 






"You damned fool!"


"Quit that!"


"Get out and stay out!"

"We're under attack!"


In Summary

An exclamation is something said with sharp emphasis, like an outcry or command.


The exclamation point calls attention to itself like a loud crash of symbols. It is like cayenne pepper—a little goes a long way, but used sparingly it enhances flavor. And like cayenne pepper, it should come with a warning: Hot stuff. Use sparingly.


For next time: Lose or Loose? Which is right?