When Not to Use an Exclamation Point

A member of a language ListServ to which I subscribe recently asked for guidance on exclamation marks. Two replies were particularly noteworthy:

1. In letters and most other longish communications, the message should speak for itself, with no need for embellishment. However, where space is limited, so that the wording alone cannot convey the message, such as in tweets, I suppose an exclamation point would be ok. But think of it this way: do you want to come across like a teenage girl? If so, use lots of "!!!"s Otherwise, make your message powerful enough to do the job. IMHO!!!

2. From the Associated Press Stylebook:

  • Use the mark to express a high degree of surprise, incredulity or other strong emotion.
  • Use a comma after mild interjections. End mildly exclamatory sentences with a period. lace the mark inside quotation marks when it is part of the quoted material: “How wonderful!” he exclaimed. “Never!” she shouted.
  • Place the mark outside quotation marks when it is not part of the quoted material: I hated reading Spenser’s “Faerie Queene”!
  • Do not use a comma or a period after the exclamation mark:
  • Wrong: “Halt!”, the corporal cried.
  • Right:  “Halt!” the corporal cried.

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