Are Exclamation Marks Overused? The Government Thinks So!

Do you find the over-use of exclamation marks annoying? Do you think online texting and social media sites have led to a pandemic of exclamationism? If so, read on!!!

The latest guidance from the Department of Education supports those of you out there who can’t stand the indiscriminate, willy-nilly use of exclamation marks to support vigorous statements. Ridiculous? Apparently not!

From now on, children of seven years and over will be expected to adhere to the strictest of definitions for the humble exclamatory, whereby a sentence must begin with the words “How” or “What”, be a full sentence and contain a verb. Nothing else will do.

What does that mean?

A sentence like “How amazing!” will not qualify, as it has no verb.

The sentence “How amazing it is to be a child!” will get a mark.

The end of modern expression?

Those lucky students aged seven-years and under better enjoy their halcyon days exclaiming at “Look Dot, a butterfly!” It won’t be long before they enter Year 2, a more austere world, where no marks will be awarded for identifying sentences that are incorrectly punctuated as exclamatory such as “Give me a break!” or “Put that down, now!”

The thinking behind this, according to the Department for Education, is not to tell students never to use exclamation marks, but to give “guidance” on what marks can be awarded and what won’t be.

KS1 exclamation mark guidance
KS1 exclamation mark guidance

Considering both “how” and “what” often start off as questions like “How many do you have there?” and “What would you know?” it could get tricky deciding when to use the new exclamation rules.

Examples of creditworthy exclamation sentences:

“What a lovely day!”

“What a good friend you are!”

“How beautiful you are!

Examples of un-creditworthy statements:

Exclamatory statement: “I’ve only got five of these left.” “I can’t believe this is not butter.”

Exclamatory imperative: “Tell me which way to go right now.” “Give me that.”

Exclamatory interrogative: “This is no ordinary way to do things.” “Stop doing that.”

Interjection: “Hey, you there.” “Ouch.”

If you are really keen to teach the new regime to those who eagerly exclaim everything, try using the new rules when speaking out aloud. Be sure to start a sentence the right way (using “how” or “what”). “How delightful the daffodils look!” “What a way to go!”

Think about it. You may find practising the verbal exclamation sentence correctly brings a whole new dimension to your speech. You might even sound more 1950s. After all, these new rules reflect the delicate use of exclamation marks, sparingly applied in Ladybird books, from the back of yore. Times when exclamation marks were not overused, and when three of the little blighters in a row could never, ever, adorn the words “Go Manchester United!!!”

A long time ago, I guess, there wasn’t a huge need to exclaim anything to your children. To double illustrate this, think about the modern-day expression “clean up your room”. You’d better keep your voice low if you don’t want to confuse nearby children. Exclamatory imperative/commands are most definitely out!

How very unappealing!

But necessary (sigh!)

By the way – if you want to have a little giggle about this, try this article from today’s Guardian.