Top Punctuation Howlers – The Exclamation Point!

Spelling, Misused Words, and Punctuation – Oh My!

Next to more glamorous errors, like spelling mistakes and misused words, punctuation is often overlooked. Without punctuation, communication would be one long string of incoherent thoughts and ideas.

So come along with us as we kick off a new series with the excitable and occasionally overbearing exclamation point.

Many will use the exclamation point (a.k.a. the exclamation mark) excessively and overdramatically. In these cases, readers question the author’s credibility as well as whether they can actually trust the author’s claims.

For example: When done effectively, prewriting makes writing so easy!! All you have to do is add a little polish here and a transition there and voila! Your article is ready for submission!!!!

In the example above, the only proper use of the exclamation point was: voila! Why? The exclamation point should be reserved for exclamations, commands, and the occasional sound effect, not statements. Let’s break this down further.


An exclamation is a loud remark (with strong feeling), such as a complaint, protest, outcry of surprise or pain.

  • “The party was amazing.” (statement) vs. “What an amazing party!” (exclamation)
  • “I was surprised.” (statement) vs. “Oh my!” (exclamation)
  • “It’s your birthday.” (statement) vs. “Happy Birthday!”


A command is an order that is given or to direct with authority.

  • “You should go.” (statement) vs. “Go!” (command)
  • “Please don’t do that.” (statement) vs. “Stop it!” (command)
  • “Have a seat.” (statement) vs. “Sit!” (command)

Sound Effects!

To convey sudden actions or loud noises, use an exclamation point.

  • “Bam! Pow! Thwack!”
  • “Aarrgh!”
  • “Achoo!”

And Other Exclamation Point Tips

  • Informal Writing – While an exclamation point can add emphasis and/or add a little excitement to your writing, using exclamations in formal writing is generally abhorred. For example, the people of Wisconsin may be excited about their state, but exclaiming it looks a little silly: “Wisconsin became a state in 1848!”
  • 1 Will Do the Trick – One exclamation point will suffice. “I love you!” has just as much emphasis as “I love you!!!!”
  • “Inside!” – When an exclamation point belongs to a quoted or parenthetical sentence, it belongs inside the quotation, parentheses, or bracket. For example: “Get thee to a nunnery!” Hamlet exclaimed.

Use these tips to strengthen your writing skills, as well as maintain your credibility as an Expert Author. If you find yourself trying to spice up your writing or want to add emphasis, try adding more descriptive information using active language. And when the situation calls for it: Enjoy!



Excellent. Looking forward to the rest of the series!!! Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 9:33 AM


Phil Grisolia writes:

Exciting! Enlightening! Informative! Yeah, I couldn’t resist, either!!!!

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 9:42 AM


Jiles writes:

Thanks a lot. I really appreciate and look forward to these tips. Thank goodness some people still attach importance to good punctuation!

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 9:54 AM


Raven Cohan writes:

Thanks for this. For some reason I confess to having been an exclamation point junky. Can I hope to go cold turkey now? But the addiction creeps in via a protest of what I think is logic:
Though I have been accused indirectly, in discussion groups on the internet, of seeming angry, I wonder why people are sensitive to a silly piece of punctuation when my intention is to simply exclaim something that has no anger whatsoever, but in fact… offers enthusiasm. Without the exclamation, give some examples please of how to let the latter emotion shine. Before I drop it totatally, it would be great to hear others react.

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 9:58 AM


Paul Chew writes:

Hey. Spelling mistakes and misused words, punctuation, etc. This is important.

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 10:23 AM


Firman Asyhari writes:

I often ignore the topic, thank you for giving me a lesson

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 10:23 AM


Nick Wright writes:

When running writing courses, someone asked me what I thought of people using exclamation points. I told them of the story of my conversation with a well-respected American editor. He said:

“Whenever I see an exclamation point I see a teenager putting on a baseball cap. Why, because generally teenagers with a baseball cap on have half the intelligence of those who don’t wear them”.

So I asked what he thought of a writer that uses several exclamation points together.

“That’s easy – then I see a teenager with the baseball cap worn back to front – and you can halve the intelligence again.”

My own advice is simple and covers almost every situation.

1. Don’t use exclamation points.
2. If you must, only use them in one-word exclamations: Fire! Stop! Duck!

Nick Wright

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 10:40 AM


James Lanham writes:

So, for you, the way you dress is correlated with your intelligence?
(Also, do hope the following correction will be of help in your writing classes)

“Why? Because, generally, teenagers with a baseball cap XXXonXXX have half the intelligence of those who don’t wear them…”



Barry Dawson writes:

Teenagers or anyone wearing baseball caps would have neither heard of nor know the correct spelling of voila.


Michael writes:

LMAO! Sooooooo true!


Chaz DeSimone writes:

Too many exclamation points in one piece? Like crying wolf. And more than one at the end of a sentence? Amateurishly absurd.

I believe one reason I keep that symbol scare in my own writing is my admiration for the ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach. Back in the 1960s when the Volkswagen ads were uber-popular I read that Bill Bernbach made sure no exclamation points were ever used in any of DDB’s advertsing copy. He was such a witty copywriter he made his point (npi) without the mark.

If my own clients infuse their copy with multiple exclamation points I insist they pare each set down to one or I will not design or publish their piece. (Nor will I allow Helvetica and Futura on the same page.)

I do wish the interbang would have taken off, however. That is a useful symbol when I’m too lazy to structure a sentence with words alone to achieve the effect of an exclamatory question.

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 11:45 AM


Dave Tishendorf writes:

The one that drives me insane … is the improper use of … ellipses …

It is so ubiquitous that it is becoming a rarity anymore to see a simple sentence end with a period …

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 12:17 PM


Charles Garnache writes:

I love exclamation marks. I use them sparingly. Thank you for your lesson. I could resist.

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 1:02 PM



Thank you for the lesson. I use exclamations sparingly. I would not enjoy not having it available. I did resist and I don’t wear a hat.

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 1:09 PM


Samuel Bani Dauda writes:

Waooo! This is informative, educative and interesting. Thank you for the enlightenment on exclamation mark.

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 3:34 PM


Randall Magwood writes:

I agree with the notion that exclamation points shouldn’t be used with statements. I think some people want readers to understand their point so much that they try too hard, and wind up using exclamation points all over the place. But less is definitely more when using this one simple character.

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 3:38 PM


Stuart writes:

Due to lack of any schooling, i’m afraid my punctuation is awful!

I am really looking forward to this series, this is just what I need.

Keep em coming


Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 3:58 PM


Rick Gee writes:

As a direct response copywriter, I come at this from a little different perspective.

The secret to great copywriting is writing like you speak. Sometimes grammar rules have to be thrown out.

That said, here are a couple of my punctuation pet peeves:

1. Periods and commas go inside quotation marks, not outside. (Sorry, Nick the Writing Teacher).

2. The death of the apostrophe (and its rebirth in plural nouns).

How many times do you see a sentence like this:

Remember when Alec Baldwins character in Glengarry Glenn Ross said, “Always be closing”? Modern sales guru’s beg to differ with that advice.

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 4:07 PM


Kathleen Watson writes:

My pettest of pet peeves? A comma used in lieu of a semi-colon to separate two stand-alone clauses. (And does that sound schoolmarm-ish, or what?)

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 5:02 PM


Greg Elder writes:

You touched on it, but my biggest complaint is using more than one punctuation mark. If you don’t understand something, one ? will do. You don’t have to put ?????

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 5:31 PM


Barry Dawson writes:

With this in mind, would the following be punctuated correctly?
Ready? Set. Go!
I see it as “ready” is asking the racers if they are ready, “set” is a comment to the officials and “go” is a command to the racers.

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 5:36 PM


Chaz DeSimone writes:

I like that. You used three different marks, each appropriately. If a turtle was in the race you could have also used an ellipsis.


Craig writes:

My top five punctuation ‘howlers’ concern the use and misuse of ‘single’ and “double” quotation marks; the semi-colon (;) and full-colon (:); and the massive abuse of the innocent, abused and mistreated comma.

May I also include some phraseology howlers too?

“Protesting against …”; the word protest is a negative already.

“Doing good”; accurate if doing works of good [benefit]; terrible if intending to say that you are doing well in your life or task.

“However …”; following a semi-colon, the word offers an alternate thought within a sentence; Capitalised and commencing a sentence, “However” can only offer narrative, not alternative. “However John tried, he could not undo the knot.” in contrast to an incorrect use, “… all members must comply. However, if in doubt …” To correct this last sentence, please consider the alternative continuation, “… all members must comply; however, if in doubt …”

Cheers, Craig

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 6:49 PM


Terence Starkey writes:

I must confess to using exclamation points more than I should. I also use elipses and hyphens quite a bit so articles on these would be good to see. I will try and cut down.

My pet peeve is the apostrophe though. The number of people who can’t get the simple rules into their head is amazing:

“Car’s for sale.”
“It’s color is fading in the sun.”
“It was red. Now its a rusty color.”


Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 7:17 PM


Brenda Svoboda writes:

Signs spotted around my neighborhood:

Yorkie’s For Sale

Say what?

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 7:18 PM


Rhonda Woodworth-Tardif writes:

One thing that frustrates me is when someone forgets what a comma is for. Sometimes you have to read and reread a sentence to get the meaning.

As for the exclamation point, I agree that it should be used sparingly. I sent a piece of writing away to be proofread and one of the notes that came back was that to use it once in a book is enough. It takes a little (or a lot) more thought to use words instead of a mark, but words will say it better, in my opinion.

I agree with the previous writer who said it looks amateurish.

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 8:02 PM


sreekumar writes:

Waiting to read on other punctuations too.

Comment provided May 11, 2012 at 8:29 PM


Anna Sidorova writes:

Very interesting and informative. Punctuation is a very important part of professional writing. I am looking forward to the explanation of the use of commas.

Comment provided May 12, 2012 at 12:06 AM


Ivan writes:

My pet punctuation peeve? Misplaced apostrophe’s!!! (Sorry – I couldn’t resist on either count)

Comment provided May 12, 2012 at 3:51 AM


Opal Marrs writes:

I look forward to hearing more about punctuation. The use of punctuation marks has changed since I studied journalism and creative writing. A person’s writing can be made more exciting, not by the use of exclamation points, but through various sentence structures, some short, some longer. Using a longer sentence structure involves prepositional phrases, adverbial and adjective clauses Correct punctuation becomes very important.

Comment provided May 12, 2012 at 10:16 AM


Kieran Gracie writes:

I am guilty of using ! too often. Also the ellipsis… I try to use them only to emphasize a particular point, but your article has brought me into line again (I hope).

By the way, I see that a new Volkswagen model is called the Up!, at least in Europe. Presumably VW had a team of copywriters to come Up! with that.

Comment provided May 12, 2012 at 11:02 AM


Chaz DeSimone writes:

When introduced in Mexico it’ll have to be Up! which, in some fonts, would look like a lowercase i, thus infringing on Apple’s patents of i-anything.


G.S.Commander writes:

Of course you are right, I get moaned at for my spelling and grammer and not using plurals correctly when I add a new post to noddleit social site

Comment provided May 12, 2012 at 12:28 PM


Joseph McCumber writes:

My pet punctuation peeve is run on sentences. When I read a long sentence that needs a comma, and the author has omitted to use a comma, I literally feel out of breath by the time I finish the sentence.

Comment provided May 12, 2012 at 2:47 PM


Peter writes:

That info!!! was great!!!!!!

Comment provided May 12, 2012 at 10:34 PM


Chaz DeSimone writes:

As a typographer I appreciate the proper use of the hyphen, en dash, em dash, and long dash (hardly used anymore – like 3 em dashesconnected). Also, proper and consistent spacing before and after each dash.

Of course, knowing how to use a dash does little good when blogs and such don’t offer any differentiation between hyphens, short and long dashes. I don’t like the look of two hyphens in a row, so to infer an em dash I’ll space hyphen space – like this. I feel like an amateur writer doing that, but it beats the alternative–which is this.

Fortunately, InDesign, the professional page layout program, allows me to choose all sorts of dashes and control their spacing. Now if only my clients knew how to use them.

Comment provided May 13, 2012 at 12:51 PM


Chaz DeSimone writes:

Interestingly, some of the most intelligent people I know who are excellent writers as well missed the lesson on it’s and its. That to me really separates the professionals from the amateurs.

Comment provided May 13, 2012 at 12:57 PM


Michael writes:

Came across this the other day – pertinent and funny. Well … I think so anyway.

As a writer of over long sentences, often with tangents and qualifiers, I love / need commas and parentheses. :-)

Hmmm. Are smiley faces punctuation now?

Comment provided May 14, 2012 at 8:16 AM


Rachel writes:

My biggest pet peeve is the misuse of the lowly apostrophe. I can’t speak for other’s, but I never could understand how my friend’s missed this important but overlooked slice of punctuation.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the Mom’s out there.
Get the point?

Comment provided May 14, 2012 at 9:36 AM


Glenn writes:

Thanks for the advice, it always great to get reminders…

Comment provided May 15, 2012 at 8:29 AM


Seth Haydel writes:

I actually had exclamation points in my thought bubble when I saw the title of this article so I had to click it! LOL! Lovely and informative article!

Comment provided May 15, 2012 at 4:12 PM


Mary Segers writes:

Oops! I learned (and have been applying) APA style where the ! goes outside the ” “. Thanks for keeping me at Diamond level anyway.

Comment provided May 15, 2012 at 6:42 PM


Rick Gee writes:

I think the ! would go inside as do the comma and period. If I’m not mistaken, the colon and semi-colon go outside.

As for the question mark, it depends on whether the question is being quoted, or if you’re asking a question that includes a quotation:

Then he said, “Why should I be the only one to suffer?”

Why would you say, “I should be the only one to suffer”?


Phil Grisolia writes:

Why use the APA style? Wouldn’t the AP (Associated Press) style book be the one most writers should look to as their “bible?” (OK, where did that question mark actually belong?)

Comment provided May 15, 2012 at 6:53 PM


Mary Segers writes:

I was required to use APA style for college and graduate school papers. I did lots and lots of research papers.

Comment provided May 15, 2012 at 9:02 PM


Mary Segers writes:

I know…I ain’t in Kansas no more.

Comment provided May 15, 2012 at 9:03 PM


Michael writes:

The question mark goes with the question. So if the ‘why’ or the ‘when’ or whatever, is in quotation marks, the question mark should be too. If it isn’t, it isn’t.

What about if you’re quoting a question as a question though? Should that get two question marks? Seems, correct by the rules, but really weird to write or read.

Why would he say, “is that a question?”?

I think I’d just find a different way to write it … so that I avoided the problem.

(-: Michael :-)

Comment provided May 16, 2012 at 2:31 AM


Julie Moon writes:

Guilty as charged. Thank you for bringing this to light, I look forward to more tips.

Comment provided May 16, 2012 at 8:33 AM


Raven Cohan writes:

You know what? After all this discussion, I find myself wondering what has the world come to if we read into the innocent exclamation point as if it was mostly a reprimand or a statement of an ugly sort expressing something that for me is way more likely to be a clear burst of enthusiasm. What is going on in the world that we have to type on eggs? Why are people so oversensitive? Any philosophers with their own theory are welcome to pipe in. (I had an exclamation at the end, but I erased it in guilt.)

Comment provided May 23, 2012 at 10:42 AM


Rekha writes:

I really appreciated the period related article. Thank you.

Comment provided May 24, 2012 at 7:33 AM


malathy udhay writes:

That was good information for freelance writers like me. Yes, I am looking forward to more of the same. Thanks!

Comment provided May 26, 2012 at 9:05 AM


Lonn Turner writes:

Punctuation is difficult to master, particularly because it varies with different languages and ever-changing common acceptance.

Because of the dire need to understand quotations, I procrastinated publishing a finished yet unedited book for over a year!

Related to quotations, something I’ve learned that helped me is to “go play outside.”

Quotations should be placed outside of punctuation marks in most cases, but not in all of them.

Thanks for the article Penny and to all of the informative comments.

Comment provided June 3, 2012 at 2:14 AM


Dave Doolin writes:

Yes, yes, very good.

Perhaps you could enlighten us on the proper use of my personal favorite punctation next, the interrobang (!?), aka the wtf mark.

Comment provided June 15, 2012 at 2:23 PM


Joaseph Dabon writes:

Very informative.

Do greetings like Hi and Good morning need to have the exclamation point?

Comment provided February 4, 2013 at 7:16 PM



No need for an exclamation point on either of those unless the greeting comes in a particularly excited manner.



Joaseph Dabon writes:


First, my name is Joseph, not Joaseph.

Second, i see your point. But it is not grammatically wrong, either, to put in an exclamation point to project the feeling of gladness for having done so.




My apologies on the misspelling of your name. That is the way it appears in the blog commentary.

You are correct in that there are a variety of uses for the exclamation point. It’s up to the author as to whether it is appropriate or not.



Flowr writes:

Hi, can anybody tell me which is the correct sentence?

A. I wish her,”Happy Birthday”.
B. I wish her,”Happy birthday.”

Comment provided October 9, 2013 at 2:27 AM


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