What is an Exclamatory Question?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

A question mark, gears, light bulb and exclamation point on swivel chairs.
An exclamatory question may be followed by either a question mark or an exclamation point. WestEnd 61/Getty Images

In English grammar, an exclamatory question is an interrogative sentence that has the meaning and force of an exclamatory statement (for instance, "Isn't she a big girl!"). Also called an exclamatory interrogative or an emotional question.

An exclamatory question may be followed by either a question mark or an exclamation point.

Examples and Observations:

  • "How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?"
    (attributed to Albert Einstein)
  • "What other dungeon is so dark as one's own heart! What jailer so inexorable as one's self!"
    (Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables, 1851)
  • "'And look,' Andreas continued in his gentlest voice, 'see the modifiers skipping around and nodding cheerily to each other: My! isn't this fun!"
    (Alexandra Marshall, Gus in Bronze. Mariner Books, 1999)
  • "[Mrs. Kitson's] astonishment found vent in the exclamatory question: 'What the deuce do you want here?'
    "To which question the clerical visitor answered by solemnly asking another:
    "'Woman, are you saved?'
    "'What business is it of yours? Anyway, I want to be saved from you.'"
    (Dick Donovan, Deacon Brodie, or Behind the Mask. Chatto and Windus, 1901)
  • Tim Sullivan: Either a piece a cake or a slice a life, you notice that?
    Bobby Gold: Yeah, I've remarked that, ain't that the truth?
    (Homicide, 1991)
  • "I live with bread like you, feel want, taste grief,
    Need friends: Subjected thus,
    How can you say to me--I am a king?"
    (King Richard in William Shakespeare's King Richard II)
  • An Emotive Overlay on a Semantic Category
    "Statement, question, exclamation, and directive are . . . semantic categories. Exclamation is in fact somewhat different in kind from the other three in that it involves an emotive element of meaning that can be overlaid on a statement, a question or a directive, as in:
    i. What a rogue he was!
    ii. How on earth did you do it so quickly?
    iii. Take that bloody grin off your face!
    That is, these would characteristically be used to make an exclamatory statement, put an exclamatory question and issue an exclamatory directive respectively. Syntactically, only (i) is exclamative--(ii) is interrogative and (iii) imperative."
    (Rodney D. Huddleston, Introduction to the Grammar of English. Cambridge University Press, 1984.
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What is an Exclamatory Question?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/exclamatory-question-term-1690616. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). What is an Exclamatory Question? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/exclamatory-question-term-1690616 Nordquist, Richard. "What is an Exclamatory Question?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/exclamatory-question-term-1690616 (accessed January 31, 2023).