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  • Writer's pictureSarah

Exclamation points are the worst punctuation

Updated: Aug 27, 2018

I propose that we get rid of the exclamation point. They're the grammatical equivalent of a temper tantrum: adults shouldn't have them, and people won't take you seriously even if you're making a valid point. Customer support people and webmasters, you know what I mean.

My thesis statement: if you want your writing be taken seriously, don't use exclamation points. The exceptions are for loud volume or emotion in dialogue, salutations, gratitude, and goodbyes. That sounds like a lot of exceptions, but the number of times they truly come up is low. Most of the time, nobody needs to use an exclamation point.

Why do I hate exclamation points? They tend to show up in three annoying contexts:

1. Marketing ("Try our NEW and IMPROVED THING! We hope that you'll get excited about it because we're YELLING!")

2. Communications from people you don't want to talk to, including pretty much every Internet commentator ("I need to fix my PC virus worm hack thing, HELP!!!!!")

3. At the end of cheesy statements that people don't really mean ("It was awesome having that business lunch with you yesterday!")

Exclamation points are to punctuation as pennies are to currency: if you use a ton of them, you're obnoxious. Even using one can be annoying.

Instead of throwing an exclamation point in there, choose words and a tone that convey your intensity. You shouldn't have to rely on the exclamation point crutch to show that something's important. It actually has the opposite effect in many cases.

For example, today I was reading an essay and saw this sentence:

"From this I gathered that being informed and having an opinion was considered threatening by the government warranting attention from authorities!"

What this person wrote had weight because of its subject, yet the exclamation point makes it look immature. The government targeting you for your opinion is serious; yelling about it doesn't help. It hurts.

Here's another example:

1. "I'm sorry, but I respectfully disagree."


2. "I'm sorry, but I respectfully disagree!"

One sounds normal. Two sounds...shrill.

Exclamation points do have a place in dialogue to express volume, like in an argument: "If you use one more exclamation point, I'm moving out!"

So let's all use our indoor voices and stop yelling when we write. I won't even talk about all caps, especially because Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) sums it up perfectly with this cartoon.


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