How to Use Exclamation Marks

Exclamation points or marks are often seen as confusing, but the rules are simple. This is a grammar guide to using exclamation marks.

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© 2017 Epytome / Used With Permission

An exclamation mark, or exclamation point, is used to denote an exclamation of some description.

Whilst exclamation marks definitely fall into the category of tell when you should be showing the reader, they can dramatically change a sentence.

“No.” His voiced echoed throughout the empty hall, spittle erupting from his mouth.

From that you know that the speaker shouted.

“No!” His voiced echoed throughout the empty hall, spittle erupting from his mouth.

Adding an exclamation mark insinuates a sense of urgency.

Most commonly, exclamation marks are used in dialogue to show how certain words or sentences are expressed.

“I said no!” he yelled.

However, they can also be used in description or narration to emphasise a point.

To the disbelief of those around her, she picked up the crystal!

They can also be used to denote sarcasm, irony or something that the writer finds funny when they are enclosed in brackets.

That was fun(!)

Exclamation marks are one of more simple elements of grammar. You use it as a sentence finisher instead of a full stop—or a comma in speech—much like a question mark, and within the speech marks if you use it in speech. There are some caveats to the use of an exclamation mark, however.

Never use more than one at a time.

“No way!!”

Never use it with other punctuation.

“He said what?!”

Punctuation, generally speaking, is invisible to the reader. A reader will not consciously look at a full stop and think I need to pause here for the new sentence; they subconsciously know what it means and what to do with it. So, when you start throwing in multiple exclamation marks, or mixing them with question marks, you pull your reader out of their subconscious reading and tell them to pay attention to your grammar. This is rarely a good thing.

Exclamation marks in general should also only ever be used sparingly. There’s a few numbers out there, like only one exclamation mark per ten thousand words, but that’s more of a guide than a rule. You can have three in your fifty word flash fiction and, if appropriate, it be okay. Just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should. Each one must be justified, much like the use of a question mark. You cannot just drop them in as and when you feel like it.

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David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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