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Exclamation Mark: Use & Meaning

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  • 0:03 With & Without the…
  • 0:41 When Not to Use Them
  • 1:16 Exclamation Mark Uses
  • 3:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

The exclamation mark (!), also called the exclamation point, is a form of punctuation that is sometimes used at the end of a single word, phrase or complete sentence. Its goal is to express an extremely strong and intense statement.

With & Without the Exclamation Mark

Can you hear the difference in the following sentences (see the video at 00:08)?

Stella had the baby last night.

Stella had the baby last night!

It's amazing what a simple punctuation mark will do. The first sentence in the example above reads rather casually: 'Oh, it's not a big deal, but Stella had the baby last night.' The second sentence reads like this news is great news and we are supposed to get excited! That's what the exclamation mark will do for a sentence. It adds a level of enthusiasm. It's boastful, and we feel energized by its presence.

When Not to Use Them

First off, it should be noted that exclamation marks are not typically used in academic or any other formal writing. You would definitely never see them written in a newspaper. If you're writing an essay on the effects of the Thirteenth Amendment on the South, for example, you probably would not have the need to use a single exclamation mark in your paper.

The reason is quite simple. The use of exclamation marks can come off as childish or silly. They certainly have a place in informal writing, but their use must be restricted to certain instances, or your reader will not take your work seriously.

Exclamation Mark Uses

So, if we should avoid exclamation marks in our formal writing, when should we use them? Think about how you feel when you see an exclamation mark. Depending on where and how it's used, an exclamation mark will usually display a strong feeling such as anger, joy, surprise or elation. It provides an emphasis, almost like it's shouting; it sort of begs the reader to raise his or her inner voice.

Here are a few instances where it's perfectly fine to use an exclamation mark. Remember that these uses are for informal writing. Exclamation points can also be used in the sort of writing that is trying to depict regular speech, such as in a novel or short story.

You can use an exclamation mark to display a strong or urgent feeling, as in the following sentence or sentences:

Help!

Lisa yelled at Bart, 'Stop making fun of me!'

Quit your whining!

Patrick shrieked in excitement, 'What an amazing car!'

I miss you!

Leave me alone!

We often see an exclamation mark in a non-question sentence after an expletive that begins with 'how' or 'what.'

How amazing is this sunset!

What the heck are you talking about!

Exclamation marks are also commonly used in informal personal writing like texts, letters, or emails to your friends.

Oh my God!! Billy is coming over tonight!!

Don't forget to pick up the milk!!!

She is so lame!!!

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