exclamation point

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The exclamation mark is an intensifier. It is used to indicate surprise, urgency, finality and the like.

The exclamation point is found most often after interjections, but also after ellipses, contractions and inversions, and after certain onomatopoeic words:

  • Crash! went the filing cabinet.

but

  • The crash of the filing cabinet was heard far down the hall.

The exclamation mark is also used after forceful requests, wishes, invocations and commands:

  • Would that I could!
  • Follow my white plume! —Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sometimes the exclamation mark is used to convey a special intonation that the reader would not give the words if they were punctuated normally:

  • And I thought he was joking!

Incredulity

An exclamation mark, usually in parentheses (italicized in square brackets in quoted material), is sometimes used to indicate incredulity on the part of the writer. As with the similar use of the question mark, this is a technique easily overdone:

  • Mr. Jones asserted that never in his long and distinguished (!) political career had he taken a bribe.

Exclamations in a series

When exclamations occur in a series, they are usually separated by commas:

  • Several honourable members: Hear, hear!

However, two interjections may be combined with no intervening punctuation:

Oh no!

Omission of the exclamation point

Where the words themselves are enough to convey the emphasis, or where the sentence or clause is more properly a question, do not use an exclamation mark:

  • Another project failure like this, and we are finished.
  • Who knows? Who cares?

Exclamations are necessarily short. An exclamation mark should never appear at the end of a long sentence unless it is intended to intensify only the last word or words.

The exclamation mark should be used as sparingly as possible. Emphatic wording is usually more effective than emphatic punctuation.

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