The exclamation mark (!), informally known as a bang or shriek, is arguably the most widely abused punctuation mark, especially in the electronic era. Almost every single day we come across text messages, tweets and emails laden with this sign.
The thing is, when we speak, the tone of our voice and body language make the intent behind what we say quite clear. Written words, on the other hand, might not always convey our emotions effectively. This is perhaps why many people use exclamation marks generously, hoping that it will make them appear friendly or adequately enthusiastic about something. What they don’t realise, though, is that excessive use will make their writing appear juvenile, or even shouty.
The Use of the Exclamation Mark
The exclamation mark is generally used to express strong emotions (e.g. joy, surprise, anger, frustration) or to indicate a sense of urgency. We generally add one at the end of exclamatives beginning with what or how (e.g. What a lovely coat!). Here are a few points to help you use the exclamation mark judiciously.
- The key to using the exclamation mark effectively is to use it sparingly. Overuse will certainly cause distraction, lessening the impact it can have on the reader. If there are too many bangs, it would be rather tough to identify the really exciting parts of your writing. Solution? Ideally, an exclamation mark should be summoned only if there is a clear need to express very strong feelings. Rewording sentences can oftentimes help you avoid the bang, so do explore this possibility.
- Using exclamation marks in a row (two, three or more) to stress the way you feel about something is a definite no-no. A single exclamation mark will do, at the very most.
- The bang is often spotted in advertisements, novels and signage. Its presence in a piece of formal communication, however, will be considered inappropriate by most. Therefore, it is best to rely on your vocabulary range to intensify what you are saying.
Now that you’ve had some help, remember not to unleash a platoon of exclamation marks on the reader the next time you compose a text message or email; use a bang only when it is unavoidable.