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    • Join Date: Jan 2006
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    Question Use of '!' in classic stories

    I was wondering if anyone could help me explain the use of the exclamation mark in this sentence from the original story of Black Beauty.

    "Bad boy!" he said, "bad boy! to chase the colts..."

    To me it seems it is used to emphasize the feeling/emotion of how the person would be speaking, but is there a particular grammar/punctuation rule/reason for this?

    My co-workers has asked for an explanation but I am struggling!!


    • Join Date: Oct 2007
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    Re: Use of '!' in classic stories

    You are right. It is used to emphasise feeling or emotion. As a general rule, it is probably best to avoid using the exclamation point except in the rare occasion when the feeling or emotion is extreme. It is very easy to overuse exclamation marks, but no one will ever complain if you never use them.

    In the US and Canada the exclamation mark always goes inside the quotation marks, like in the text that you cited ("Bad boy!"). They can replace periods, but don't always replace them.

    In British English, I am of the understanding that exclamation marks are placed in or out of the quotation marks based on the logical relationship to the words inside the quotes. So, if the person being quoted is the one who is expressing feeling or emotion, then the exclamation mark goes in the quotes; whereas, if it is the writer who is expressing the emotion, then the exclamation mark goes outside the quote. So, for example, the writer says "I can't believe she said 'Let them eat cake'!"

    I'm not sure if exclamation points can replace periods in British English (as I did in the British sample above). I'm sure someone else will be able to better clarify this.

  1. rewboss's Avatar

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    Re: Use of '!' in classic stories

    Exclamation marks (BE; AE="exclamation points") do replace full stops (BE; AE="periods") where necessary, and in British English they do go outside the quotation marks if logic dictates.

    In the excerpt from Black Beauty we are dealing with -- well, with an exclamation. Surprisingly (or not), that is what we use the exclamation mark for.

    An exclamation can be an interjection like "Ah!" or "Yikes!". It can also be an emphatic sentence, usually used to declare something wonderous or surprising.

    The utterance "Bad boy!" can be seen either as a sort of incomplete emphatic sentence, or an interjection with added meaning. The emotional content is actually incidental here: "Good boy!" would still require an exclamation mark, but has a completely different emotional content. The important thing is that it is not a statement -- "You are a bad boy" -- but a declaration, the utterance of which confers the status of "bad boy" on the horse. Another kind of declaration is the sort that might have "What a" in front of it, as in "What a beautiful sunset!" Here, it expresses admiration (and was originally called a "point of admiration").

    The other common usage for the exclamation mark is for orders of one or two words: "Stop!" or "Quick march!", for example.

    It can also be used to indicate something said in surprise or anger, but inexperienced writers are apt to overuse the exclamation mark here and use it, for example, to indicate irony (thus defeating the whole point of using irony).

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