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What Are Question Marks? (Punctuation Lesson)A question mark is used to indicate the end of a question. For example:
- If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one? (Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865)
- If there is no God, who pops up the next Kleenex? (Art Hoppe)
- What's another word for Thesaurus? (Steven Wright)
Question Marks to Show InflectionOccasionally, in informal writing, a question mark can be used to turn a statement into a question. The question mark tells the reader to add question inflection to the sentence. For example:
- You won the lottery?
- She has a motorbike licence?
- You won the lottery, eh?
- I'll see you at 6 o'clock, okay?
- You won the lottery, didn't you? (This sentence is transformed into a question by the question tag didn't you. Most of the time, the question tag is negative if the statement is positive and vice versa. Look at the example below.)
- You didn't win the lottery, did you? (The question tag is positive because the statement is negative.)
- You won the lottery, did you? (Sometimes, particularly to express surprise, a positive tag can be used with a positive statement.)
Using (?) For UncertaintySometimes, in informal writing, a question mark in brackets is used to express uncertainty. For example:
- All (?) the staff will be attending the briefing. (Here, the author is questioning whether all the staff literally means all the staff.)
- A lot of men (?) find ironing therapeutic. (Here, the author is suggesting that "real" men would not find ironing therapeutic.)
Be Mindful of Indirect QuestionsAn indirect question is a question embedded inside a statement (i.e., a declarative sentence) or another question (i.e., an interrogative sentence).
Do not use a question mark when an indirect is embedded within a statement. For example:
- He asked if I had seen the film yet. (This is an example of an indirect question. The direct question is "Have you seen the film yet?")
- I'm unsure whether the wether will weather the weather? (This is not a question. The direct question is "Will the wether [a ram] weather the weather?")
A Polite Request Dressed Up As a QuestionOften, a polite request comes in the form a question. There is a lot of leniency on whether such a sentence is ended with a question mark or a full stop / period. For example:
- Would all those in the back row who have been primed to ask a question please find a seat in the front three rows. (This is a question. However, it is meant as an instruction. As it straddles the ideas of an imperative sentence (a command) and an interrogative sentence (a question), it is acceptable to end it with a full stop / period. A question mark is also acceptable. You can let your instinct guide you.)
Be Mindful of Questions That Look Like StatementsSometimes, a question feels like a statement. Be sure to use a question mark for a question. For example:
- Do you realize if it weren't for Edison, we'd be watching TV by candlelight? (Al Boliska)
Question Marks in QuotationsWhen used with quotation marks, a question mark follows logic. In other words, it will be inside the quotation if the quotation is a question, but it will be outside if the whole sentence is a question. For example:
- She said, "Have you finished?" () ()
- She said, "Have you finished?". () () (This is unwieldy but acceptable, particularly in the UK. In the US, this is an unpopular convention.)
- Did she say, "You have finished"? () ()
- Did she say, "Have you finished?"? () () (This is unwieldy but acceptable, particularly in the UK. In the US, this is an unpopular convention.)
- When a man tells you that he got rich through hard work, ask him, "Whose?" (Don Marquis, 1878-1937)
The Inverted Question MarkIn Spanish, a question is introduced with an inverted question mark. For example:
- ¿Qué es eso? (What is that?)