Enough with the Exclamation Points!!! Four Uses for the Most Overused Punctuation

Exclamation points gone wild!!! An Exclamation Scale to help us gauge the appropriate use of our favorite punctuation.

Somewhere in the first decade of the 21st century people got really excited. Emails and text messages are littered with inappropriate exclamation points from people who, in real life, would never exclaim such a thing as "See you soon!!!!!!!!" or "Yes!!!!!". I mean, really. Are you that excited? (For the record a very unscientific survey of my inbox surfaced the use of twelve exclamation points in one sentence.) Blame it on email, blame it on the Great Recession, blame it on Millenials, blame it on Obama. Whoever's at fault (and we're all guilty) doesn't matter: it's time we review the proper use of the exclamation point before it loses all meaning, or worse, we have to use five exclamation points when we really just need one.

I am no grammar expert, just a concerned citizen, so let's first review Webster's definition of an exclamation:

Definition of EXCLAMATION

1: a sharp or sudden utterance

2: vehement expression of protest or complaint


Granted, this is not the most inventive definition and creative uses abound so maybe we can all just agree on one thing: if you would not use an exclamation point in a real conversation (or ten for that matter) don't use them in other types of communication like email or text messages. There are far too many even-keeled people using exclamation points in emails when they know good and well they would not be using them in real conversation. And it makes the rest of us look bad or worse, ungrateful, if say, we don't use an exclamation point after a simple thank you. Exclamation points should not be political.

To help us all get back on the same page, as it were, maybe we can all agree on a way to gauge the appropriate amount of exclamation, let's call it an Exclamation Scale.

!- Something really important or exciting has occurred is about to occur. e.g. "So excited to see you!" or "Congratulations!"

!!- Something exceptional has occurred or is about to occur. e.g. "So excited to see you for the first time in ten years!! or "Congratulations on scaling Mt. Everest!!"

!!!- A minor emergency has occurred or is about to occur. e.g. "The basement flooded and we need a plumber ASAP!!!" or "Help!!!"

!!!!- A once-in-a-lifetime event has occurred or is about to occur. e.g. "Jane just went into labor!!!!" or "It's a boy!!!!"

And may I be so bold to suggest that we eliminate five exclamation points and above all together? If you need to use five exclamation points your house should be on fire or you are in labor-- in both cases you should not be emailing.

Images (cc) via Flickr users romana klee, donnamarijne and chicagogeek