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I get confused on when to use the exclamation mark "!". Are there concise rules on when to use the exclamation mark "!"?

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    Awaiting a real answer but: the only answer I've gotten to this from native English speakers so far is: don't! And as you can see, I follow that advice religiously. ;) – sundar Aug 19 '13 at 19:01
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    English does NOT have the rule of some other languages, that a sentence in the imperative must be enclosed in ¡! marks. – GEdgar Aug 20 '13 at 12:01
  • At my church, I proofread the bulletin that is printed every week, announcing events at the church. The people writing the bulletin often use lots of exclamation points in their advertisements to try to convey a sense of excitement about their event. I limit them to at most one exclamation point per event. – Ben Miller Aug 20 '13 at 18:43
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An exclamation mark indicates that something was exclaimed.

It should generally only be used in spoken dialog, when someone is angry, excited, or frustrated. It should almost never be used in technical writing, or in narrative text. For example,

Larry walked to the store! He was very excited! He shouted, "Hello."

is an inappropriate use of exclamation marks. However,

Larry walked to the store. He was very excited. He shouted, "Hello!"

would be more appropriate.

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    Lewis Thomas's little essay on punctuation makes the best point about exclamation points: – John Lawler Aug 19 '13 at 19:29
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    "Exclamation points are the most irritating of all. Look! they say, look at what I just said! How amazing is my thought! It is like being forced to watch someone else's small child jumping up and down crazily in the center of the living room shouting to attract attention. If a sentence really has something of importance to say, something quite remarkable, it doesn't need a mark to point it out. And if it is really, after all, a banal sentence needing more zing, the exclamation point simply emphasizes its banality!" – John Lawler Aug 19 '13 at 19:30
  • 'If a sentence really has something of importance to say, something quite remarkable, it doesn't need a mark to point it out.' The reader might. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 19 '13 at 21:54
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    Amusing! (That was my response to Lewis Thomas's essay.) The exclamation point is intended because my thought was accompanied with an audible laugh and not merely a half-smile or slightly puckered expression. – user49891 Aug 19 '13 at 23:06
  • I'd feel free to use them (sparingly) in narrative text as well as spoken / quoted dialogue. And even on road signs! Used judiciously, they can alleviate (slightly) the poverty written communication has with respect to the spoken word, as evidenced by user49891's comment. There is a very helpful article at grammar.yourdictionary.com/punctuation/when/… . – Edwin Ashworth Aug 20 '13 at 9:38
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The exclamation mark is used to indicate an increase in sound level, to be "heard" by the reader. It is also used to convey emotion.

The reader should hear a marked difference at the end of these sentences:

The usher gave us our programs and said, "This way."

Leading hikers through a thunderstorm, the guide shouted, "This way!"

The increase in sound level doesn't have to be as extreme as shouting. John Lawler provided the following quote in a comment:

And if it is really, after all, a banal sentence needing more zing, the exclamation point simply emphasizes its banality!

The exclamation mark tells us there's an intended crescendo at the end of that sentence, starting at about its.

As for emotion, let's take fluffy's example about Larry:

Larry walked to the store. He was very excited. He shouted, "Hello!"

Normally, the preceding sentences should not have exclamation points, but if Larry had been unable to walk for months or years, it would be appropriate, and accurate, to write

Larry walked to the store! He was very excited! He shouted, "Hello!"

Also, someone might grumble, "It's irritating." Another might grumble, "It's irritating!" The first case is milder annoyance. The latter expresses more emotion.

We shouldn't steer clear of exclamation marks. They help us convey just what we want to convey in dialogue and descriptive writing.

However, that's also why they should be used very rarely, if at all, in more formal writing (e.g. academic writing, developing a thesis, business communication, and the like), to keep the tone professional, neutral, or objective. This kind of writing isn't always devoid of emotion or passion, nor should it be, but emphasis and excitement should arise without manipulation from the author, from choice words and crescendos of logic and reasoning, not created arbitrarily with exclamation marks.

protected by tchrist Feb 22 '15 at 16:10

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