Tuesday Afternoon Punctuation: The Exclamation Point

Having discussed over the past two weeks the basics in punctuation—the period and the question mark—we arrive at perhaps the most overused punctuation mark in electronic writing: the exclamation point.

Use an exclamation point to emphasize a point or express an emotion:

Jim told you not to say anything to Derrick!
I can’t believe the surprise is ruined!

In order to remain effective, however, the exclamation point should be used sparingly.

An exclamation point can also be used to issue a command:

Don’t bring Derrick home yet!

Finally, an exclamation point can be used in what are called exclamatory sentences, often comprised of one-word interjections:


The Interrobang

Another vagary of electronic writing, especially in emails and texts, is the combination of sometimes multiple question marks and exclamation points to express surprised questions:

Is Jim throwing a surprise party for Derrick?!?

In formal writing, however, choose the one punctuation mark that best fits the tone of the sentence. Are you fundamentally asking a question, or expressing emotion?

Are you coming to Derrick’s surprise birthday party tonight?
How did Derrick find out about his surprise party!

However, I learned from Grammar Girl that there is a single punctuation mark that covers all the bases. The interrobang looks like an exclamation point superimposed on a question mark:The interrobang also shouldn’t be used in formal writing, and it’s not readily available or easily applied in most fonts for electronic writing, so it looks like its relegation to obscurity won’t be ending any time soon.

Do you have a question about punctuation? Let me know, and we’ll discuss it in a future edition of Tuesday Afternoon Punctuation.


Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Fogarty, Mignon, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2008.

Hacker, Diana, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press: 1991.

Strunk Jr., William, and White, E.B. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2000.

Caught in the ’Net

British educator Ken Smith’s controversial suggestion that we accept variant spellings wasn’t the first such proposal. Teddy Roosevelt and the Simplified Spelling Board, which included Mark Twin, Melvil Dewey, and Henry Holt, outlined similar plans a century ago.


1 Comment

Filed under news, punctuation

One response to “Tuesday Afternoon Punctuation: The Exclamation Point

  1. motsjustes

    Forty years after its invention, the interrobang is ready for a comeback: http://maisonneuve.org/index.php?&page_id=12&article_id=3205 -mj

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