As yourself: Is the sky really falling? This is ‘hair on fire’ punctuation, so use exclamation points very sparingly to mark emphasis, denote strong emotion, or indicate that a comment is meant ironically.
Why use exclamation points so sparingly? Do you know people who constantly seem excited to the point of hysteria? It doesn’t take long before you tune them out, does it? You don’t want to be that person in your writing. Very few things are that crucial and excitement ridden, are they?
Outside of Comicon, nobody can live long in an italicized universe filled with literal or figurative exclamation points. They’d stroke out or develop a stress disorder.
The interrobang: This curious punctuation is an exclamation point superimposed upon a question mark (or vice versa). Ben Yagoda at The New York Times notes that it has been used for, “ejaculations such as ‘What the ?!…, [and] had a brief moment in the sun in the 1960s.” There are still sightings of this odd little punctuation, but they’re rare since the mark has never made it onto the keyboard. It is likely to slowly ooze out of sight like mood rings, lava lamps, and pet rocks.
But, if you must! Exclamation Points for Big Kids.
Where to use:
- At the end of a sentence.
The bathtub’s about to overflow!
Ghosts, pixies, and X-Men are real (oh my)!
That power line’s still live!
- Inside quotation marks, parenthesis, or brackets only when it is part of the quoted or parenthetical material.
Sean complained, “Sarah bit me!”
Ouch! That really hurt.
“You can emphasize, Out, damn spot! out I say! a bit more,” Sarah’s the drama coach suggested.
- Headlines in newspapers and such (as appropriate):
Shaking causes earthquake damage!
Stop the madness!
- Warnings, calls for assistance, etc.: When there’s no time (or need) for discussion.
Help! Watch out! No! Right! Danger! Duck!
- If a question is essentially an exclamation.
Example: How could you do that to me!
- Use an exclamation when making a particularly strong command.
Example: Never frighten me needlessly like that again!
- In comic books, cartoons, fiction, and such. There are a number of emotive, “comic book” words which take exclamation points (e.g., No! Pow! Crunch! Kazaam! Yike!).
- Use an exclamation point to show irony. The punctuation warns the audience not to read the statement straight.
Of course I believe in the Tooth Fairy!
Our boss? He’s as calming as an air raid signal!
Brockway, Laura Hale. “Stop the Madness! Rules for using the exclamation point.” Ragan’s PRDaily. 21 February 2013. PRDaily.com. Web. Found 29 July 2014.
Pearcy, Alan. “A punctuation mark for when you’re mildly enthused.” Ragan’s PRDaily. 18 February 2013. PRDaily.com. Web. Found 29 July 2014.
Purdue University. “The Owl at Purdue.” 2005. Found December 4, 2005.
“Q&A.” The Chicago Manual of Style Online. The Chicago Manual of Style. 2010. Found 30 May 2014.
Yagoda, Ben. “The Point of Exclamation.” New York Times. 6 August 2012. Web. Found 29 July 2014.