It’s notoriously difficult to gauge tone when you’re communicating in a written format. Because of that, people often use exclamation points to inject their prose with an air of levity, but it’s easy to get carried away: Use too many exclamation points and you’ll come off as overzealous, but if you fail to use any at all, you’ll come off as the passive-aggressive texter that’s uniformly despised.
We could commiserate over the politics of grammar — how can something as trivial as an exclamation point be so contentious — but let’s get into how to use this grammatical tool appropriately.
Use exclamation points differently for different situations
It’s good to acknowledge the benefits of an exclamation point when you’re writing an email or texting. Responding to a text with a lacklustre “sure,” or a placid “OK,” is the textual equivalent of a middle finger. But instead, sending a “sure!” or an “OK!” assures the recipient that you do not hate them and want them to die. It’s a function of tone and being conscious of setting a good one is a positive thing! (Do you see what I just did there? Did you?!?!)
But you don’t want to go over the top, either. Riddling your messages with exclamation points is the weirdest in an office setting, since you have to toe the line between genuine enthusiasm and being superficially! excited! about! everything!
As Grammarly maintains, if you’re writing to office colleagues, save the exclamations for the real positive sentiment. There’s no need to use one when discussing a more serious issue, as your co-workers might assume “you’re yelling at them.”
When writing a longer email, it’s also worth imagining how your writing would sound if you were reading it aloud. Even if you’re really excited about an upcoming report, three sentences with exclamation points in a row might sound! Too! Excited! Try sticking to one exclamation point per paragraph.
This might seem a little stringent, so a less severe rule of thumb is to limit exclamation points to one every three sentences. That’s how I see it, at least. You should give it a try! (Please observe my method in practice).
It’s different when it comes to dating
For every exclamation point you might send in an office email, the impact is only magnified when you’re trying to woo someone online or send a casual text — especially when it’s to a stranger. Meredith Golden, a relationship expert who’s ghostwritten dating profiles, tells Lifehacker about the finer points of navigating the terrain.
She says “anything in excess is too much with a stranger. It’s important to be mindful that exchanges with a bestie are different than messaging on a dating app.” A good thing to keep in mind when you’re talking to someone you’ve just matched with is knowing that one exclamation point “is fine in an exchange, but they shouldn’t finish every sentence.”
Basically, everything is contextual. That’s something to keep in mind for dating but also the broader communication of daily life.
For example, if someone escaped a burning building and saved four lives during the process, and this is a shared anecdote in an app exchange, it’s appropriate to use more than [exclamation point] but someone saying they’ve visited twenty countries doesn’t qualify.
When it comes to being frustrated with something, it’s probably best to eschew the exclamation point altogether. After all, a full-stop period at the end of a sentence in a text is a pretty good indication that you might be annoyed. But when it comes to all other sentiments, exercise moderation when it comes to the all-powerful exclamation.