Jan 30, 2012

Grammar Hammer: The Super Bowl! Rules on Exclamation Points

The Big Game is coming up this weekend, and if you’re a football fan, you’re probably really excited about it. Probably so excited that during the game you just might go crazy posting statements online with tons of exclamation points to freak out about an interception, an unfair penalty, a really awesome commercial, a victory — or heaven forbid, an unbearable loss.

So before you knock over your bowl of chips scrambling to get to your computer to announce “TOUCHDOWN!!!” to all of your social media friends, consider these rules of exclamation points, and try not to go too crazy with your punctuation marks during the Big Game:

Indicating Importance or Emotion

The exclamation point can be used to grab attention or emphasize a point:

  • Please don’t attempt to call me during the game!
  • The nachos are done!

An exclamation point can also be used to show excitement, urgency or shock:

  • That ref can’t see anything — he must be blind!
  • He made the kick! That was the longest field goal I’ve ever seen!

Indicating Rhetorical Questions

Sometimes if you ask a question, but there is no expected answer, it can be an appropriate situation for an exclamation point:

  • Did you see that hit! He went down like a sack of potatoes!
  • Can you believe he broke that tackle!

Adding emphasis to a question

An interrobang is a merger between a question mark and an exclamation point Technically, it’s this symbol: ‽ But more frequently, the question mark and exclamation point are side by side: ?!

Interrobangs can be used to add emphasis to a question, sometimes for rhetorical questions as well:

  • That’s how a quarterback gets hurt. Was he ever going to throw that pass?!
  • Was that linebacker’s dad a Mack truck?!

Indicating Irony or the Unexpected

To highlight part of a statement in an obvious way, generally to indicate irony or something unanticipated, you can use an exclamation point in parentheses (!)

  • After five interceptions (!), don’t you think the coach should take him out?
  • After running 240 yards (!), he deserves to have a break.

It’s probably best, however, to never use the (!)  It’s not technically against the rules, but stylistically, irony should speak for itself. Most of the time, you should give your readers the benefit of the doubt and let them read between the lines.

Style Reminder

Please note that exclamation points are not obligatory every time you need to emphasize a point or indicate emotion. Use it sparingly! (haha) If you overuse it, then it will lose its significance.

And never, never use multiple exclamation points!!! It looks desperate — right?

Now have fun Super Bowl weekend! And remember, your friends are still your friends even if they use an exclamation point for the other team.

Written by Grace Lavigne, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

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