In this article, I want to teach you the name and the use of this punctuation mark, which is tucked away with the number 1 on your keyboard in the top left-hand corner.
It’s called the ‘exclamation mark’ and the meaning is in the word: to exclaim, or say loudly, to shout.
Let me tell you a story to help explain it.
Whenever I taught this mark in my English classes in China, I’d begin by writing the word:
on the blackboard.
And I’d say it. Softly, a few times.
Then I added an ‘!’ to the end like this:
And I shouted it loudly. The students jumped in surprise or fear - or both.
But it served the purpose in a simple way. It was a means to an end.
I might have explained it in a longer, more complicated way, using too many difficult words that they would not understand. But I didn’t.
By now, I hope you’ve understood why we use it.
Let me give you another example.
“I don’t want you going to that place again!” her father shouted.
I’ve used an exclamation mark, but I’ve also mentioned that her father “shouted” to emphasise the way in which he said it.
If I’d written “I don’t want you going to that place again” her father shouted, it looks ‘wrong’.
Or, if I’d written “I don’t want you going to that place again!” her father said, that looks ‘wrong’ too.
So, it needs both: the exclamation mark as well as the mention that her father was shouting.
It helps with communication. And a simple punctuation mark like the exclamation mark as well as the word ‘shouted’ or ‘yelled’ aids that communication.
Why then doesn’t a STOP sign have an exclamation mark?
I think it’s because the STOP sign is red, a sign of danger. So, an exclamation mark is not needed.
There’s not much else to say about the exclamation mark.
Except to say that one should not overdo it. Never, especially in a formal document, use more than one exclamation mark – like this: stop!!!!!!! Yes, it conveys the meaning that a stop is critical or urgent, but it’s really unnecessary. In informal settings, a chat with a friend it would be permissible.
So, there you have it.
All you needed to know about the exclamation mark, and how and when to use it.
Use it wisely, and use it well!
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