English English language Expression Grammar Language Punctuation Usage Writing

A chorus of exclamation points  

Q: I’m seeing a lot of exclamation points in greetings (“Good Morning!” … “Hello!”) and in expressing gratitude (“Thanks!” or “Thanks!!!”). Is there an overuse of exclamation points? I have a feeling it’s generational, the younger you are the more you use them. Sure would love your opinion.

A: We can’t tell you definitively that the increasing use of exclamation points these days can be attributed to young people. Much of what we read now seems to be overexcited, with exclamation points proliferating on almost every front.

Why the overuse of a punctuation mark that’s supposed to be emphatic to begin with?

It may be that a simple “Hello” in a greeting, followed by a comma or a period, no longer feels enthusiastic enough. Or a simple “Thanks” may not seem grateful enough. So the writer punches it up with an exclamation point—or two or three.

The use of a single exclamation point isn’t wrong in these cases, though it can seem overwrought if no real emphasis is needed.

However, using more than one exclamation point at a time—“Thanks!!!”—is going too far. It’s not good English and it’s entirely out of place in formal usage. (Of course, people don’t always use their very best English, especially in casual use with family and friends.)

In her grammar and usage guide Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English (4th ed.), Pat has a few things to say on the subject:

“The exclamation point is like the horn on your car—use it only when you have to. A chorus of exclamation points says two things about your writing: First, you’re not confident that what you’re saying is important, so you need bells and whistles to get attention. Second, you don’t know a really startling idea when you see one.”

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