Exclamation Marks!

An Exclamation Mark or ! is a punctuation‏‎ symbol used at the end of a sentence‏‎ to denote strong feeling: surprise, anger, exuberance:

I love you!

Get out!

I won!

It is sometimes known as a bang, a screamer, a shriek, a slammer, a startler, or a pling.

Some theories suggest the exclamation mark is a stylized form of the Latin word, io meaning joy. In Medieval times writers would write io at the end of a sentence in much the same way as some worshipers today will use the word hallelujah or amen to underline or affirm an utterance. The first letter, i, grew longer and moved over the o, thus forming an exclamation mark.


It is good practice to use exclamation marks sparingly and certainly in anything but the most informal texts (e.g. SMS) you should only ever use one and no more.

Sometimes you can use an exclamation in conjunction with a question mark to show surprise or incredulity (although again, this is very informal):

You said what?!

To show sarcasm in informal writing, you can use an exclamation mark in brackets:

Simon, our esteemed leader (!), managed to get us lost for four hours.

Finally, heed the words of Scott Fitzgerald: “Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.”

Notwithstanding this, there is a famous story about the author, Victor Hugo. He wrote to his publisher asking how his newly published novel, Les Miserables, was faring. He supposedly sent a single character message: ? His publisher replied: !

However, since this story first appeared 30 years after the publication of the novel it can be considered apocryphal at best.

Exclamation and TEFL

In the TEFL classroom it is best to use an exclamation mark only to show emphasis and then, only one at a time. In other words, keep the use of exclamations formal.

There is not usually much of a problem with students understanding how to use them (as long as they know that more than one is very informal). However, note that some languages use them slightly differently to English:

  • In German an exclamation is used after salutations (only informally in English)
  • In Spanish an inverted exclamation is used at the beginning of a sentence as well as at the end: ¡Estás loco!

Useful Links

Exclamations‏‎.- about exclamations in general in English


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Posted in Sentence Structure.

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