Ho Ho How Do You Punctuate That?


It’s getting to be that time of year when children close their eyes and fantasize about an old, fat man breaking into their house while they sleep naïvely in false security in their bedrooms.

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” the man says to himself as he places consumer goods under a tree that for some reason has been moved to their living room.

Wait. Perhaps he says “Ho ho ho!” instead. Just how many exclamation points does this slavemaster of reindeer use?

Let’s turn to the authorities. Here’s what Merriam-Webster has to say:

Screen Shot 2018-12-06 at 10.24.56 AM.png

There you have it. Three hos and one exclamation point.

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas (etc.) to you!

Erin Servais is a professional book editor who is really hoping she won’t get coal this Christmas. Learn more about how she can help you reach your publishing goals here: Dot and Dash website.


Inside or outside: question marks, exclamation points, and quotation marks

How dare you say that this photo of Blossom “doesn’t make sense with the blog post”!

In American English, periods go inside quotation marks. However, this is not always the case with exclamation points and question marks. Whether these punctuation marks go inside or outside quotation marks depends on context.

If the quote is a question or exclamation, the punctuation mark goes inside the quotation marks.

Monica asked, “Have you seen my lighter fluid?”
Hank screamed, “Ow! My face is on fire!”

“I can’t believe you sold my baseball cards!” Sarah shouted to her brother.
“How else was I going to fund my start-up company?” her brother asked.

If the quote is not a question or exclamation, the punctuation mark goes outside of the quotation marks. You’ll often see this when someone is referencing something another person said.

Did she tell me to “go jump off a bridge”?
I can’t believe she told me to “enjoy eating some mashed peas”!

Did Paul say that “all you need is love”?
Only a rich guy would say that “all you need is love”!

Test your skills with a quiz. After the sentence is either exclamation point or question mark in parentheses. Choose whether the punctuation mark goes inside our outside of the quotation marks. The answers are at the bottom.

1. I’m so mad she said, “Honey, collate all these papers” (exclamation point)
2. “Could you hand me the large sword” Lily asked. (question mark)
3. Stephanie screamed, “Stop pinching me” (exclamation point)
4. Did you ask me to “stop and smell the roses” (question mark)
5. “How much money do you have in your wallet” Ted asked. (question mark)
6. It’s amazing the doctor said so calmly that he “had two hearts” (exclamation point)

1. outside 2. inside 3. inside 4. outside 5. inside 6. outside

Erin Servais is a freelance copy editor and copywriter. To learn how to hire her for your next project, go to www.dotanddashllc.com.

Say no to exclamation points

“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.”
—Terry Pratchett

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

Grumble Party

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.