PUNCTUATION - The question mark

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PUNCTUATION - The question mark

Post  Vincent Law on Thu Apr 26, 2012 7:42 am

PUNCTUATION - Question mark:

Use a question mark [ ? ] at the end of a direct question. It is considered bad form to use a question mark in combination with other marks, although that is often done in informal prose in an attempt to convey complex tones: "He told you what!?" That combination (or similar combination) of punctuation marks is sometimes called an interrobang, but the interrobang currently has no role in academic prose.

A tag question is a device used to turn a statement into a question. It nearly always consists of a pronoun, a helping verb, and sometimes the word not. Although it begins as a statement, the tag question prevails when it comes to the end-mark: use a question mark. Notice that when the statement is positive, the tag question is expressed in the negative; when the statement is negative, the tag question is positive. (There are a few exceptions to this, frequently expressing an element of surprise or sarcasm: "So you've made your first million, have you?" "Oh, that's your plan, is it?") The following are more typical tag questions:

"He should quit smoking, shouldn't he?"
"He shouldn't have quit his diet, should he?"
"They're not doing very well, are they?"
"He finished on time, didn't he?"
"She does a beautiful job, doesn't she?"
"Harold may come along, mightn't he?"
"There were too many people on the dock, weren't there?"

(Be careful of this last one; it's not "weren't they?")"

Be careful not to put a question mark at the end of an indirect question.

"The instructor asked the students what they were doing."
"I asked my sister if she had a date."
"I wonder if Cheney will run for vice president again."
"I wonder whether Cheney will run again."

Be careful to distinguish between an indirect question (above), and a question that is embedded within a statement which we do want to end with a question mark.

"We can get to Boston quicker, can't we, if we take the interstate?"
"His question was, can we end this statement with a question mark?"
"She ended her remarks with a resounding why not?"
"I wonder: will Cheney run for office again?"

Put a question mark at the end of a sentence that is, in fact, a direct question. (Sometimes writers will simply forget.) Rhetorical questions (asked when an answer is not really expected), by the way, are questions and deserve to end with a question mark:

"How else should we end them, after all?"
"What if I said to you, "You've got a real problem here"?"
(Notice that the question mark here comes after the quotation mark and there is no period at the end of the statement.)

Sometimes a question will actually end with a series of brief questions. When that happens, especially when the brief questions are more or less follow-up questions to the main question, each of the little questions can begin with a lowercase letter and end with a question mark.

"Who is responsible for executing the plan? the coach? the coaching staff? the players?"

If a question mark is part of an italicized or underlined title, make sure that the question mark is also italicized:

"My favorite book is Where Did He Go?"
(Do not add a period after such a sentence that ends with the title's question mark. The question mark will also suffice to end the sentence.) If the question mark is not part of a sentence-ending title, don't italicize the question mark:

"Did he sing the French national anthem, la Marseillaise?"

When a question ends with an abbreviation, end the abbreviation with a period and then add the question mark.

"Didn't he use to live in Washington, D.C.?"

When a question constitutes a polite request, it is usually not followed by a question mark. This becomes more true as the request becomes longer and more complex:

"Would everyone in the room who hasn't received an ID card please move to the front of the line."

Vincent Law
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