Exclamatory Sentence

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Young man holding speech bubble with exclamation marks
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In English grammar, an exclamatory sentence is a type of main clause that expresses strong feelings by making an exclamation. (Compare with sentences that make a statement, express a command, or ask a question.) Also called an exclamative or an exclamative clause.

An exclamatory sentence usually ends with an exclamation point (!). 

With the appropriate intonation, other sentence types (especially declarative sentences) can be used to form exclamatives.

Exclamatory sentences rarely appear in academic writing, except when they're part of quoted material. 

Etymology: from the Latin, "to call"

Examples

  • "It's alive! It's alive!"
    (Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein in Frankenstein, 1931)
  • "Have fun storming the castle!"
    (Billy Crystal as Miracle Max in The Princess Bride, 1987)
  • "I can't believe it! Reading and writing actually paid off!"
    (Homer Simpson, The Simpsons)
  • "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!"
    (Oliver Hardy in Sons of the Desert, 1933)
  • "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!"
    (Henry David Thoreau)
  • "Boy, do I hate being right all the time!"
    (Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Malcolm in Jurassic Park, 1993)
  • "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"
    (Peter Sellers as President Merkin Muffley in Dr. Strangelove, 1964)
  • Shrek: Now, let's go before they light the torches!
    Princess Fiona: Hey, they're my parents!
    Shrek: Hello, they locked you in a tower!
    (Shrek 2, 2004)
  • "Give that old dark night of the soul a hug! Howl the eternal yes!"
    (John Corbett as Chris Stevens in "Jules et Joel." Northern Exposure, 1991)
  • "It has worked! You've given everything away! I know where the poison is!"
    (Wallace Shawn as Vizzini in The Princess Bride, 1987)
  • "What a grand thing, to be loved! What a grander thing still, to love!"
    (Victor Hugo)
  • "Sunnyside is a place of ruin and despair, ruled by an evil bear who smells of strawberries!"
    (Mr. Pricklepants, Toy Story 3, 2010)
  • "If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank."
    (Woody Allen, "Selections from the Allen Notebooks." Without Feathers, 1975)
  • "It was the way that frog's eyes crumpled. His mouth was a gash of terror; the shining skin of his breast and shoulder shivered once and sagged, reduced to an empty purse; but oh those two snuffed eyes!"
    (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 1974)
  • "Imagination, imagination, imagination! It converts to actual. It sustains, it alters, it redeems!"
    (Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King. Viking, 1959)
  • “'But that's fantastic!' Mrs. Wong exclaims. 'This could be a groundbreaking event! Just think of the ripple effect it could have at schools across the state."
    (Heather Vogel Frederick, The Mother-Daughter Book Club. Simon & Schuster, 2007) 
  • "How the years pass and life changes, how all things float down the stream of Time and vanish; how friendships fade, and illusions crumble, and hopes dissolve, and solid piece after piece of soap melts away in our hands as we wash them!"
    (Logan Pearsall Smith, "Evanescence." More Trivia, 1921)
  • "The book is long on hyperbole and short on insight. The author deposits exclamation points at the end of too many otherwise unsurprising sentences, as if she were composing advertising copy for Champagne. 'Nineteen fifty-eight: to all appearances a banner year!'"
    (Deborah Solomon, "Leo Castelli’s New York Story." The New York Times, June 3, 2010)
     

Exclamatory Phrases and Clauses

"Adjectives (especially those that can be complement when the subject is eventive, eg: That's excellent!) can be exclamations, with or without an initial wh-element . . .:

Excellent! (How) wonderful! (How) good of you!

Such adjective phrases need not be dependent on any previous linguistic context but may be a comment on some object or activity in the situational context."

(Randolph Quirk et al., A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language.

Longman, 1985)

Interrogative Clauses as Exclamations

"Occasionally, clauses with affirmative or negative interrogative structure can also be used as exclamations:

[speaker is recounting a long and problematic journey]
Oh God, was I exhausted by the time I got home!"

(Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy, Cambridge Grammar of English. Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Subjects of Exclamatory Sentences

"To find the subject of an exclamatory sentence that is not a statement, a question, or a command, ask yourself, "About what does the sentence exclaim?" How swiftly the eagle flies! is an exclamatory sentence that does not make a simple statement, nor ask a question, nor give a command, but you will readily see that the predicate is about the eagle, so the eagle is the subject."

(Pearson and Kirchwey, Essentials of English, 1914)

Further Reading