“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.”
ALERT: This post contains a rant.
I have a confession. Earlier today I wrote an angry email. Normally, I’m the friendly word nerd lady you have come to know and love, but this woman I wrote pushed me over the edge, and it was because . . . she used multiple exclamation points.
Stay with me here. We were discussing a touchy issue. And I kept my cool when I saw her set of double exclamation points (!!), but when I saw her use three (!!!) exclamation points at the end of a sentence, well, I just lost it. My reply was much more heated than it may have been had she not been so exclamation point happy.
Here’s why: exclamation points are a major pet peeve of mine. Nine times out of ten, even one exclamation point is not needed.
I ran into my ex-girlfriend today.
I bit into a rotten apple.
I won the first place prize.
I saw a double rainbow.
The kind and humble period works with all of the sentences above. You don’t need an exclamation point to express to another person how gross biting into a rotten apple is. Also, you don’t need an exclamation point to show your excitement at winning a prize. Your reader can interpret these feelings. Give them some credit.
And you never—ever, ever, ever—need to use more than one exclamation point. That’s like the waiters at those crappy chain restaurants who wear all of those buttons and pins on their suspenders (their “flair,” if you will). One button would be annoying enough. But pile on more and more and it becomes an assault on the eyeballs.
There are a few instances where using an exclamation point is okay. For example “Stop!” is more effective than “Stop.” if you need to express the severity of a situation. I might even say that a “Wow!” or a “Good luck!” is merited in rare occasions. But, when it comes down to it, if you have written a quality sentence, you most likely won’t need to use an exclamation point.
Moreover, each time you use an exclamation point in a piece of writing (be it an email or something else) it gets successively watered down. Think of the boy who cried wolf. Each time he alerted people about the wolf threat, they believed him less. Each time you use an exclamation point, your reader becomes less likely to believe that the situation you’re writing about is as exciting or dramatic or hilarious as you are trying to express that it is.
The moral of this story comes down to a simple equation:
! = use sparingly
I’ve added a new page to Grammar Party, called Grumble Party. If you have a grammar or punctuation pet peeve that has been eating you up, feel free to use the comments section on that page to vent. Think of it as free grammar therapy.