Last Thursday, I taught a class to a group of about ten writers. I casually mentioned that you should only use the exclamation point for the end of the world. I went on to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, who said, “Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.”
I won’t say it got close to a riot, but people stood fast in support of this mark. They mentioned several examples where it should be used. One enterprising woman found two exclamation marks in one sentence in the notes I had handed out. (They were quotes from books)
I countered that using this mark was often like telling, when the words themselves showed. “Get off my clean floor,” in my opinion needs no exclamation point. In fact, it’s an insult to the reader’s intelligence. “Look out. Get out of the way.” doesn’t need this mark either. In my own writing, I seldom use it.
When people use a lot of exclamation marks, we tend to ignore them. On Facebook there is a Society Against the Overuse of Exclamation Marks. They talk about “Exclamatoid Fever.”
Here are the rules for exclamation points, if you want them. In all the examples below, I would not have used an exclamation point. I think they are going out of style, perhaps because of overuse.
- Use an exclamation point after a sentence expressing strong feeling. For example, “I can’t believe you did that!”
- You can also place an exclamation point at the end of a forceful command, such as, “Come here right now!”
- Place exclamation points at the end of a sentence rather than in the middle. Thus, “Hooray, we won!” rather than, “Hooray! we won.”
- Place the exclamation point inside quotation marks only if it’s part of the quotation. Otherwise, it goes outside the quotation marks. For example, “She shouted, ‘Help me, please!'”
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