When and how to use an exclamation mark

When and how to use an exclamation mark

by Andrea Byaruhanga

Updated November 10, 2022

What do you think is the one topic so controversial that it creates conflict every time it’s mentioned? No, it’s not climate change or whether pineapple belongs on pizza.

It’s the exclamation mark! (Or exclamation point for our American English speakers.)

Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it is a topic of pretty intense debate.

Some people love exclamation marks and use them all the time, whereas others feel they should be avoided at all costs. 

What are exclamation marks, you ask?

An exclamation mark (or point) is a type of punctuation that’s used to convey strong emotion. While the word “exclamation” means “a sudden cry or yell,” the purpose of an exclamation mark is more than just to shout (though it can do that too). It’s used for excitement, happiness, surprise, emphasis, anger and more. 

In this article, we’ll break down when to use an exclamation mark, give you some examples of how to use them and discuss when not to use them. 

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When to use an exclamation mark

When used sparingly, exclamation marks can be useful in helping you to convey the right tone—something that can be a challenge when you’re writing an email, sending a DM, texting someone or posting on social media. Below are some examples of when and how you can use them correctly.

Opening with a greeting

If you’re writing an email and you want to come off as cheerful and easygoing, you might use an exclamation mark in your greeting. Despite being quite informal, it can be used in professional contexts if you’re comfortable with the person you’re writing to.

Example: “Hey, Shannon! Here are the edits you asked for.”

Signing off 

Much like greetings, you might also want to keep your correspondence light and breezy by ending with an exclamation point. Again, make sure you know your audience before attempting this.

Example: “Talk to you soon!”

Expressing excitement

If you want to show how excited you’re feeling about something, an exclamation point is an unmistakable way to do so.  

Example: “Yay! You’re finally coming to visit! We’re going to have a blast!” 

Showing surprise

Imagine someone contacts you on social media to tell you he’s your long-lost brother, and you respond, “Wow. I can’t believe you found me.” It falls a little flat, doesn’t it? You’d probably want to convey your surprise with a couple of well-placed exclamation points. 

Example: “That’s amazing! I didn’t know I had a brother!”

Conveying enthusiasm 

Another common use of an exclamation mark is to show your positive feelings toward something, such as a suggestion or an invitation.

Example: “Lunch on Tuesday sounds great!”

Communicating fear or worry

Sometimes, an exclamation mark can be used to express that you’re afraid of or worried about something; for example, you might be stressed about the possible outcome of a particular situation.

Example: “I was late to work again today. I’m going to get fired!”

Getting angry

If you’re feeling mad at the person you’re writing to and you want them to know it, an exclamation mark can definitely help get your point across.

Example: “Do me a favor and lose my number. I never want to talk to you again!”

Expressing shock

Shock is similar to surprise, but it’s often more intense and more serious. When you’re expressing shock, you might even want to pair an exclamation point with a question mark.

Example: “You spent $15,000 on my credit card?! Are you kidding me?!”

Conveying friendliness

It can be hard to read someone’s emotions through a text or email. Sometimes it’s a good idea to throw in an exclamation point to show that your message is friendly and shouldn’t be interpreted as angry or annoyed. 

Example: “I’ll have the report for you by the end of the day!” 

Emphasizing a point

Adding an exclamation mark can help when you’re trying to emphasize a point. It just adds a little extra “oomph” to whatever you’re trying to express.

Example: “There’s no reason for anyone to use plastic straws anymore, period!”

When to avoid exclamation marks

As useful as exclamation points can be in the right context, there are also some situations where they just aren’t appropriate and can decrease your credibility. 

Professional communications 

To be seen as a professional, it’s just as important that you use correct and appropriate punctuation in your business communications as it is to have good grammar. As we mentioned earlier, an exclamation mark or two can be completely fine in business correspondence if you know the recipient and their communication style. However, if you’re emailing a client for the first time, it’s best to keep things more formal. If they respond in a more casual way, you can adjust your style to match theirs. 

Academic writing

If you’re writing an academic essay, it’s usually best to leave the exclamation marks out. The only exception is if there’s a very specific purpose; for instance, if you’re quoting a passage that contains an exclamation. A college professor will expect your word choice and syntax to be enough to express your ideas, and will likely see an exclamation point as a weak substitution for good writing.

Strike the right tone with exclamation marks

Now you know when to use an exclamation mark. From expressing surprise to enthusiasm to anger, they can go a long way in giving your messages just the right tone and meaning. Use them sparingly in the right situations, and you can’t go wrong! 

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Andrea is a Canadian freelance writer and editor specializing in English, e-learning, EdTech, and SaaS. She has a background as an ESL teacher in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. In her free time, Andrea loves hanging out with her husband and children, creating recipes in the kitchen, and reading fiction. She also loves camping and jumping into lakes whenever possible. Learn more about Andrea on LinkedIn or check out her website.

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