GrammarPhile Blog

Are you all set with question marks?

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Feb 27, 2013 5:30:00 AM

Believe it or not, some people have actually cried 96 Tears over where and when to use a question mark. It's not always as straightforward as one might think. In fact, sometimes it's downright mysterious - some might say, "It's a Mysterian." We'll begin with the obvious and end with the less so.

The question mark is used to mark a direct question, to indicate an editorial doubt, or (occasionally) to express surprise or disbelief.

  • Who will represent the poor?
  • Mortimer Schnerd (1948?-59) had a rather wooden personality.
  • This is your reply?

Within a sentence. A question mark is used within a sentence at the end of a direct question. If the question does not begin the sentence, it need not start with a capital letter.

  • Is it worth the risk? he wondered.
  • The question, how can the two be reconciled? was on everyone's mind.
  • "Have you read the platform?" asked Mark.
  • What did she mean when she said, "The foot now wears the different ski"?

If a question mark and an exclamation point are both called for, only the mark more appropriate to the context should be retained.

  • Who shouted, "Up the establishment!"

Indirect question. An indirect question never takes a question mark.

  • He wondered whether it was worth the risk.
  • How the two could be reconciled was the question on everyone's mind.

Indirect one-word question. When a question within a sentence consists of a single word, such as who, when, how, or why, a question mark may be omitted, and the word is sometimes italicized.

  • She asked herself why.
  • The question was no longer how but when.

Courtesy question. A request courteously disguised as a question does not need a question mark.

  • Would you kindly respond by March 1.
  • Will the audience please rise.

With quotation marks, parentheses, or brackets. A question mark should be placed inside quotation marks, parentheses, or brackets only when it is part of the quoted or parenthetical matter.

  • Which of Shakespeare's characters said, "All the world's a stage"?
  • The tournament director asked, "Is the MasterCraft on the water yet?"
  • Why was Farragut trembling when he said, "I'm here to sing 96 Tears"?
  • Emily (had we met before?) winked at me.
  • Why did she tell him only on the morning of his departure (July 5)?
  • "What do you suppose he had in mind," inquired Newman, "when he said, 'You are all greater fools than I thought'?"

Wipe those 96 tears away now that question marks are no longer mysterious!

Source: The Chicago Manual of Style.


Topics: question mark

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