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How many exclamation points should one use to end a sentence?

I changed the way I used exclamation points as a result of reading Dan Feigelson’s Practical Punctuation: Lessons on Rule Making and Rule Breaking in Elementary Writing.
Prior to reading Feigelson’s book I was guilty of using multiple exclamation points to express enthusiasm on students’ papers and my excitement when crafting e-mails to other adults.  Tsk tsk.  Since an exclamation point expresses emotion, using more than one is not necessary.  Feigelson asserts:

When to Use an Exclamation Point

  • Use an exclamation point to add emphasis to a statement.  It is considered “incorrect” when used in sets (!! or !!!), should not be used often, and should not be used at the end of long sentences.
  • Use an exclamation point to indicate that a statement is ironic or humorous: With all his griping, he deserves his own personal complaint department!
  • Use an exclamation point to give a statement emphasis or to provide a feeling of extra emotion: These rules of punctuation can really be confusing!

(2008, 34)

Yikes!  When I saw that it was considered “incorrect” to use more than one exclamation point, I eradicated the use of multiple exclamation points in my writing almost immediately.

Recently, I was in an undisclosed location in New York City with my friend Christina.  We were in the restroom when she spotted a sign by the mirrors she thought would amuse me.  I found it well-crafted, but ridiculous in terms of the amount of exclamation points that were used to convey the message (especially considering the capital letters that appeared for emphasis prior to the exclamation points).  What do you think?

Message received: There are some folks who are getting really tired of loud people yapping in the bathroom!

I’ve been photographing signs with problematic grammar to share going-forward.  I think it’s helpful to use real-life examples with kids when teaching punctuation, spelling, etc.  Do you have any interesting real life examples that you’ve used or are willing to share with our community that can help teach kids something about using conventions properly?  If so, please share!

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

17 thoughts on “How many exclamation points should one use to end a sentence? Leave a comment

  1. Natasha and others who have commented about “breaking the rules”: I am disappointed (one reader said, saddened) to hear that some of us will now stop using multiple exclamation marks at the end of the sentence. I think a good inquiry project might be to investigate how some of our favorite children’s writers use exclamation marks. Do these writers sometimes use more than one exclamation mark at the end of a sentence to mark extreme enthusiasm or another heightened emotion, and are they effective? I’m curious myself so maybe I will do just that. I think the decision to use multiple exclamation marks at the end of a sentence depends on the kind of writing that we’re doing . Recently, I received a list of dos’ and don’ts from the IT coordinator at my new school and one of the don’ts that caught my eye (because I do this sometimes) was do not mark an email as “urgent”. More often than not, it isn’t and apparently it’s annoying and inappropriate. Hmm…I could see that because either way if you get an email from someone chances are you’re going to open it no matter what and when I’ve marked an email as “urgent” it’s because it’s urgent to me and/or I’m late in responding. All interesting stuff and I hope we don’t all just jump to attention when these rules are presented as the correct way, as if there’s ever only one way to do things. As I told my students recently, words come into use (the same could be said of mechanics) because people start using them – they catch on because they serve a purpose or a need, and then these words become part of our daily vocabulary. Sometimes these words are already in the language but now they are used to mean something else or they are nouns but have been reinvented as verbs, etc. Examples are “to friend someone on FB”, “to heart something or someone”, etc.
    Cheers!!!!
    Elisa

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  2. I read your post on Friday, didn’t leave a comment, but thought deeply about your message. I am way guilty of over-use of punctuation. I know there are rules, but sometimes, the punctuation just adds to my feeling and thinking. I will definitely be more mindful of what I am doing with my punctuation. My first goal is to send elipses on a vacation…a long vacation.
    🙂
    Amy

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    • @Amy: I think we have to remember the same thing we tell kids. When we know the rules, it’s okay to break the rules.
      However, overuse of punctuation is another story. The reason I wrote this post is because I was very guilty (pre-2009) of using multiple exclamation points when I really needed just one to convey my excitement. For instance, if a friend got engaged or announced a pregnancy, I came to realize that one exclamation point (Congraultions!) was just as meaningful as (Congratulations!!!!!!!!!). In fact, I think one exclamation point makes my messages come across as more sincere since I walk through my daily life shouting at the top of my lungs.
      Food for thought, right?

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  3. @Natasha – I tend to agree with you. Writing to me IS a place to express your personality, communicating in written words the way you would talk. So are there really rules in informal, personal writing? I admit to overuseing elipses though… which is probably annoying to my readers. My peeve with it all is that people don’t proofread! Rules on punctuation are rarely noticed – but not fixing mistakes or wrong word usage – that’s annoying! (!!!!);p

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  4. My opinion is that it’s good to know grammar rules, and that when we’re writing informally to friends it’s okay to break those rules if we want. I felt a little sad to read so many people saying that they’re going to stop doing something that shows their personality and emotion, just because it’s not technically correct. I do think it’s good to model correct grammar to students, but if you’re writing for your own personal communication to someone you don’t need to impress….why worry what someone has deemed “incorrect”?

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  5. With my middle school aged students, I actually had them do the searching. Through the year, I use lots of mini-lessons for different areas of grammar/punctuation learning, but mostly it’s individual because they have different skills. I will look for things to photograph Stacey. Aren’t there a couple of men who are traveling the country looking for spelling errors, like Kellee above, & trying to correct them?

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  6. Oh, wow!!!!!! I really like your post!!!!!
    Sorry, I just couldn’t resist being silly.
    I will get Dan Feigelson’s book. Oh, and I am going to get your book Day by Day to use in my classroom next year. Can you recommend a book to use for 7-9 as well?

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  7. Oh, I am guilty of using ellipses and exclamation points incorrectly myself. One thing I have not fallen on yet, however – text writing: u, 2, 4, etc. I hate that with a passion.

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  8. I’m going to try this and hope it takes you to the picture. Right before your Facebook post about grammar goof pictures, a friend posted this picture taken at our local town festival (carnival rides). I have to agree with his comment that “it’s good TOO know these people are in charge of our children’s safety.” Please let me know if the link doesn’t go to the picture.

    Looking forward to your picture collection! I’m planning on sharing them with my 5th graders in some very ‘pointed’ lessons about proof reading. Bet we’ll all get a kick out of it. 😀

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    • @Kelly: Thanks for sending this link. Too vs. to –> OYE! That was a big mistake!
      I always seem to spot errors when I don’t have a camera handy (e.g., when I’m driving). However, I’m trying to capture more of them whenever I can.

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  9. I can hardly write a thought without using an ellipse. I just googled Grammar Girl and many people find it very annoying. Yikes! I do not want to be annoying and will try to clean myself up. I just feel more like myself when I’m using my favorite punctuation. xo nanc

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