Exclamations, I feel, are a good way to describe tone without actually writing the tone. But most of the time I end up (as per reviewers) with too many of exclamations.

Many also say that too many exclamations resembles immature writing.

So I am confused. Are exclamations wrong?

NO! NO!!! NO?! No. No?!

How many exclamations are too many?

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    By "exclamations", you mean "exclamation marks", correct? And what do you mean by "too many"? Do you mean "too many at the end of one sentence", or "too many in a single story"? – F1Krazy Feb 9 at 17:01
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    I've editing your question to fix some grammar. You should use 'much' when dealing with an impossible-to-specifiy number, and 'many' with dealing with a number you can specify. In this case, the number of exclamations is specifiable, so you should use 'many' not 'much'. – Thomas Myron Feb 9 at 17:29
  • The phrasing "too many" presupposes the wrongness. So, the question then is when there are too many exclamation marks. – rus9384 Feb 9 at 21:59
  • @F1Krazy I actually mean both. Too many at the end of sentence as well as Too many in a single story. – Karan Desai Feb 10 at 8:25
  • Thanks @ThomasMyron for edits and clarification. – Karan Desai Feb 10 at 8:25

Grammar is there to help

The first thing you need to realize is that the rules of grammar are there to help. Following them makes your writing clearer and easier to understand. Not following them runs the risk of confusing the reader or sounding unprofessional.

Your Writing. Your Rules.

That being said, you as an author should not bind yourself 100% to the rules of grammar. Use them, but if your story would be better served by writing something which isn't entirely grammatically correct, do it.

However, make sure that your story would be better served by doing so. Any time you go against the rules of grammar, make sure your story is clearer for it, or the wording is more powerful. If that isn't the case, it might be better to follow the rules of grammar instead.

Exclamation Marks

Okay. So when do the rules of grammar say you should use exclamation marks? According to my handy Abeka Handbook, you should use an exclamation mark to end an exclamatory sentence (literally, a sentence which conveys excitement or passion), or to end an imperative sentence (a command) strongly stated.

Don't do that! Help!

Where should you use an exclamation mark?

Exclamation marks generally go with quotes, that is, the spoken words of people or characters. People/characters exclaim about things all the time, and it's natural to put exclamation marks in. There's no wrong amount when used this way, as long as you use them as they are meant, and only end exclamatory sentences with them.

"I don't want to die!" John cried. "Help us!" Mary shrieked. "That was funny!" Alice laughed. In his address, the president said, "we will prevail!".

When should you not use an exclamation mark?

In exposition. Exclamation marks are reserved mainly for the quotations of people/characters. For some reason, when you, the author, begin using exclamation marks on your own words, it sounds and looks silly and contrived. That might be because the reader senses you're trying to force more emotion into your words than what is there.

As they ran, John suddenly slipped, as they fell over the cliff! Exposition. Don't do this.

There are very, very rare times when you can use an exclamation mark in exposition. There are no rules here, as it comes down entirely to author-feel. For now, just don't do it.

What should you do instead?

You mentioned you use exclamation marks to convey tone. Don't do that. Exclamation marks convey only one thing, and that is heightened emotion. They don't describe what that emotion is. (Fear? Love? Joy? Worry?)

Exclamation marks heighten an emotion you have already described. They themselves cannot describe an emotion in specific terms. Describe the tone. Show the tone. Have characters act based on the tone. But don't rely solely on exclamation marks.

Tears streamed down her face. "You promised!" she choked out. He threw his hat into the air. "The war is over!" he cried.

Note also that the verb can really help you. Instead of just saying 'said', get descriptive. Look back at my examples. You'll see that I used a word which was more descriptive than 'said' every time, and conveyed more emotion.

Multiple Exclamation Marks

You mentioned in comments on your question that you also wanted to know about too many exclamation marks at the end of a sentence. Generally, any more than one is left to the semi-professional writing at best. Adding multiple exclamation marks does not magically increase the emotional impact of what is being said, and runs the risk of making your writing look unprofessional. There is only one time I might use multiple exclamation marks:

"NO!!!!" "ANNA!!!" "RUN!!!"

One word. One moment of pure - whatever the word conveys - and nothing else. Even then, it is the all caps and not the exclamation marks which lend most of the volume and passion.

There is one other time you should consider multiple exclamation marks, and that is the dreaded '!?!' or '?!?'. These are rare, but they do occur in novels. My best advice is to see if the sentence works with either just a question mark or just an exclamation mark. Try using italics to emphasize a certain word or phrase, combined with just one of the end marks. If this works, use that. If not - and only then - use one of the above. I find that '!?!' suggests more of an exclamation while '?!?' is more of a question. Never go above three end marks. You can do two if you want, but I have found that they tend to look weird.

Best of luck in your writing! (See, there's an exception to what I just said.)

  • It's a great answer! Thank you – Karan Desai Feb 10 at 8:27

Grammatically, there's nothing inherently wrong with it. But stylistically, it's definitely something you would want to curtail in formal writing. Many writers will rarely, if ever, have multiple exclamation points together in anything remotely formal. Besides being potentially viewed as "immature" writing style, overusing exclamation points diminishes their effect.

This article give a wonderful breakdown of exclamation point usage and history. The main reason I chose to link to that particular posting is because it emphasizes how exclamation points tend to be overused nowadays. (On a related note, you should avoid all-caps for the same reasons.)

So, yes, you are definitely right to be wary of excessive amounts exclamation points, or using them too frequently. Personally, I never use multiple exclamation points (outside of text messages). I used to use ?! on rare occasions, but I generally shy away from that now, too.

  • Noted! And thanks for the link. – Karan Desai Feb 10 at 8:33

Well, nah! Also maybe, yeah! I mean it's a difficult question!! Just imagine! If everything you said was an exclamation!!!!

  • Firstly, nowadays, we live in a Google dominated world. If your Heading or meta content has too many symbols such as '!' you will be penalised and your search rank will be lowered.

  • A sentence ending with an exclamation mark makes an impact usually because the sentences adjacent to it are ending with the humble period.

  • If you have written a novel with dry content filling pages after pages, then a page filled with optimally placed vituperative exclamation marks might just revive the reader's interest.

  • But when a commonless sentence ends with an exclamation mark, it undermines the threshold of exclamation in the subconscious mind of a reader!

  • More than three consecutive exclamation marks usually battles with the aesthetics of your literary compositions.

  • Also remember, the true magic of exclamation hides in the preceding text of the sentence. An exclamation mark cannot simply morph an average sentence devoid of emotions to a supercharged exclamation.

Therefore, my final verdict is that only reward the most bold and moving word or sentence of your paragraph with an exclamation mark, otherwise, you might end up dampening the true effect of the exclamation.

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    A sentence ending with an exclamation mark makes an impact usually because the sentences adjacent to it are ending with the humble period. -- True indeed! – Karan Desai Feb 10 at 8:34

On a sentence-by-sentence basis, exclamation points are almost never warranted. In many contexts - such as technical writing (with these exceptions), or any journalism barring op-eds - an exclamation point is all but unthinkable, if only because of the emotion invested in it.

Their use in prose has some amusing statistics. They're most viable in dialogue or a first-person narrative, but even then must be used very sparingly, for several reasons.

Firstly, every use weakens them further. Writers often say 1+1=1/2, and it's not hard to see why. Swearing is a great example: as Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King notes (and I've redacted one word inappropriate for SE), "think how much power a single expletive can have if it's the only one in the whole ******* book", which it was. Now, obviously exclamation points aren't objectionable for the same reasons, but when you're changing what punctuation symbol ends a sentence - something that's almost always the default - it will stand out... the first time. Too soon, it washes over people.

Secondly, you must learn as a writer how not to trick yourself into thinking you've avoided a pitfall when you haven't. You say:

Exclamations, I feel, are a good way to describe tone without actually writing the tone.

No, they're not. I get why you think they are; you've avoided this:

"Here's a statement," said Jack, feeling this way.

when you write this:

"Here's a statement!" said Jack.

Except you haven't; his anger or frustration or surprise or whatever is just abbreviated in an exclamation point. Ultimately, you're still telling me he feels much rather than showing it. True, I'll need something else to work out what he's feeling; but that something ought to also be how I know the extent of it. Ideally, that something else is just the context of the scene itself.

So, we've done prose and technical and journalistic non-fiction. That leaves... BuzzFeed articles, I guess. You can get away with more of them in that.

  • "Here's a statement," said Jack, feeling this way. tells me that Jack says something, and that he feels somehow. "Here's a statement!" said Jack. doesn't; it only tells me that he said whatever, and that he likely did so with emphasis; there is no indication per se about Jack's state of mind. He may be feeling somehow, but he could also be feeling anotherhow, and there's nothing to indicate which. So the author now needs to indicate how Jack is feeling in some other manner. The text still needs to indicate how Jack is feeling. All that is doing is, at most, to shift things around. – a CVn Feb 9 at 18:54
  • @aCVn Exactly: the exclamation point adds nothing (except for volume estimates). – J.G. Feb 9 at 19:04
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    Thanks. And all the references (Hyperlinks) in your answers are helpful.+1 – Karan Desai Feb 10 at 8:31
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    @KaranDesai One of my college dormmates used multiple swear words in every sentence. He claimed he did it to add emphasis. I didn't notice people having a more difficult time detecting when I was being emphatic than him; in fact, they seemed to never realize he was being emphatic when he wanted to be. And then the one time that school year I dropped an f-bomb, everybody in earshot stopped what they were doing to take notice. Just offering this in support of J. G.'s excellent answer. – Ed Grimm Feb 10 at 19:45

There are many writing techniques that are useful, but that become tedious or confusing if overused.

There's certainly nothing wrong with using exclamation marks. They identify this sentence as being particularly important, or the speaker as expressing strong emotion. But if every sentence has an exclamation mark, it's just tiresome. If everything is emphasized, then nothing is emphasized.

How many is too many? There's no hard and fast rule. I suppose in general I'd say that if you have more than 2 or 3 exclamations on an average page, that's reason to step back and see if that's really appropriate.

  • If everything is emphasized, then nothing is emphasized +1 – Karan Desai Feb 12 at 4:54

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