The Question Is What Happened to the Question Mark?

A reader recently asked what had happened to the question mark. She thinks that people are growing reluctant to use the question mark. We will go through use of the question mark because it is sometimes confusing.

The biggest confusion will come in determining whether the thing you are asking is a direct question or a polite request.

polite request will not use a question mark but will use a period instead.

  • Will you please get the attorney’s signature on this pleading and return it to me. (Not really a question because you expect them to do it.)
  • May I suggest that you research flight times before you book the travel.

With a direct question, use a question mark:

  • Will you be able to join us after work?
  • What time do you start working every morning?

When you have a question with quotation marks, the question mark should come at the end of the question:

  • He asked “What color car does he drive?”
  • Did you type the document called “Motion for Summary Judgment or, in the Alternative, for Summary Adjudication”?

The first bullet point shows where the quotation is the question so the question mark goes inside the quotation mark. The second bullet shows that the question is the entire sentence and not just what is in quotation marks, so the question mark goes outside the quotation mark.

Where you are using a rhetorical question (one that you really don’t expect an answer to), you should use a question mark.

  • Who decided hell’s weather should be in Arizona this week?
  • Who died and made you boss?

Where you have a condensed (or elliptical) question (where a word or phrase represents a complete question), use a question mark.

  • Jill said she was having a celebration party. When? (Representing the complete question “When is the celebration party?”)

Punctuate both complete and elliptical questions to reflect your meaning.

  • Where shall we meet? At the bus station? (Giving the option of meeting somewhere other than the bus station.)
  • Where shall we meet at the bus station? (Indicating that we are meeting at the bus station and the question is where at the bus station we will meet.)

We will continue with question marks in the next post. But go forth and ask questions and punctuate them correctly, OK?

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