An Introduction to Exclamatory Sentences

Exclamation mark key
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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 this with sentences that make a statement (declarative sentences), express a command (imperative sentences), or ask a question (interrogatory sentences). An exclamatory sentence is 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. 

Adjectives in Exclamatory Phrases and Clauses

Exclamatory phrases can stand on their own as sentences—such as if someone says "No way!" or uses interjections such as "Brrr!"—without even needing to have a subject and a verb in them, though to qualify as an exclamatory clause or sentence, a subject and verb need to be present. Author Randolph Quirk and his colleagues explain how adjectives play a part in creating 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!...

"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." (​"A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language." Longman, 1985)

Interrogative Clauses as Exclamations

In addition to sentences that have the typical declarative subject-verb structure, there are exclamatory sentences that take a positive or negative interrogative structure. For example, examine the sentence structure here: "Oh wow, was that a great concert!" Note that the verb was comes before the subject concert.

If you're having trouble parsing out subjects for these type of sentences, look first for the verb and then find the subject by deciding what belongs to the verb. Here, it's concert, as you could put the sentence in a subject-verb order as "Oh wow, that concert was great!" 

There are exclamatory questions, too, such as, "Isn't this fun!" or "Well, what do you know!" And there are rhetorical questions of surprise, such as "What?!" that end with both a question mark and an exclamation point. 

Avoid Overuse in Your Writing

Exclamative types of sentences rarely appear in academic writing, except when they're part of quoted material, which would likely be rare in that field. Please be aware that overuse of exclamations and exclamation points in essays, nonfiction articles, or in fiction is a sign of amateurish writing. Use them only when absolutely necessary, such as in direct quotes and dialogue. Even then, revise out what you can in order to leave only the most necessary.

Don't allow exclamation points (and exclamatory sentences) to become a crutch to carry the emotion of a scene. In fiction, the words the characters speak and the tension in the scene driven by the narration should be what expresses the emotion.

The author voice in an essay or nonfiction article should carry the message; exclamations should be restricted to direct quotes attributed to sources.

A good rule of thumb to follow for any piece of writing is to allow only one exclamation point for every 2,000 words (or more, if possible). Revising them out of your drafts will make your overall piece stronger by the time it's finalized.