Way back in the 14th century, there was something known as the “note of admiration.” Although it sounded very poetic, the name ultimately grew into something more pragmatic. Our contemporary name is, of course, the exclamation point.
In informal situations, it’s all too easy to overindulge in exclamation marks — just like candy in the movie theater. However, many grammar purists would put together very strong cases for how they are overused these days. The argument is that the more exclamation points are used, the less powerful they are.
The better question than when to use an exclamation point might be when not to use this punctuation mark.
The crime of using an obscene number of exclamation points is easy to spot. If something is very serious, then an exclamation is not appropriate.
Sea levels have risen more than 2 meters, submerging Miami into the Atlantic Ocean.
This sentence delivers a more somber message than:
Sea levels have risen more than 2 meters, submerging Miami into the Atlantic Ocean!
In general, exclamation marks should be used very sparingly. Words are far more powerful than punctuation; they’re much better at conveying excitement or urgency.
One carefully placed exclamation point can be impactful, especially if used in a case of shock. However, more often than not, the best option is to avoid a misplaced one.
If you are doing any sort of formal writing, including work emails, dissertation papers, job applications, or letters to your mother in law, it’s probably best to avoid them all together.
Of course, the one free pass to get maximum effect out of an exclamation mark is to use it with an actual exclamation. That means Wow! Ouch! Hey! and No! are all on the table.