The Uses of Question Marks
Using question marks for indicating queries
1. Use the question mark when posing a direct query in an interrogative sentence. This denotes that the speaker is seeking information.
Are there any letters for me this morning?
When did you finish writing that report?
2. Use the question mark to turn a statement into a question. This denotes that the speaker is assuming or hoping for a certain reply.
- You promise to finish going through these invoices?
- She didn't actually quit her job?
3. Use the question mark in statements ending with a word inflected as a query and with question tags.
- Just leave these papers on my desk, OK?
- So you got a promotion, eh?
- You didn't find those documents, did you? [Question tag]
- You found those documents, didn't you? [Question tag]
4. Use the question mark after a direct question which is inserted into a statement. If the question comes at the end, separate it with a comma. Capitalization of the question after the comma is used for extreme emphasis but is rarely recommended.
Her boss wondered, Was she really doing her job the best she could?
[Question capitalized for extreme emphasis]
The question was, was she really doing the best she could?
[Question not capitalized – recommended]
5. If the inserted question comes in the beginning, put the question mark in the middle but do not capitalize the word following it.
Was she really doing her job the best she could? Her boss wondered.
Was she really doing the best she could? was the question.
6. When writing a series of questions, use a question mark for each item, even if items are not complete sentences. Capitalization of the question items is optional so be consistent with whatever option you choose.
The board members had to decide on a new course of action for the company. Expand? Sell out? Consider new financial reforms?
7. Do not use a question mark in statements that contain indirect questions (written as declarative sentences).
No: Her boss wondered whether she was really doing her job the best she could?
Yes: Her boss wondered whether she was really doing her job the best she could.
No: I kept asking myself how she had done it.
Yes: I kept asking myself how she had done it.
Using question marks for indicating requests
1. Use a question mark with a mild command or polite request instead of a period that would make the request more demanding.
Would you take these reports down to accounting?
[Polite request – It would be nice if you do.]
Would you take these reports down to accounting.
[Directive order – Take these reports]]
Would you pass me the salt, please. Vs.Would you please pass me the salt?
If you will follow me, please.
Using question marks for indicating rhetorical question
Check this out!
Aren't his paintings amazing? [Interested or surprised reaction]
Aren't his paintings amazing. [Uninterested or musing reaction]
Aren't his paintings amazing! [Indignant or exciting reaction]
Analysis! When the above rhetorical question is used with different punctuation marks, the rhetoric implication is altered (as shown in the brackets). This demonstrates the emotional effect punctuation marks may have in a text.
Using question marks for indicating uncertainty
1. Use a question mark enclosed in parenthesis (?) if a date or another number is unknown or doubtful among the experts. Do not use a question mark to communicate that you are unsure of the information you write, as this weakens the authority of your writing.
Joan of Arc, 1412 (?) – 1431, is considered a French heroine.
2. To avoid using (?) for expressing uncertainty, consider using the word about.
Joan of Arc, born about 1412 – 1431, is considered a French heroine.
3. Do not use (?) to express irony or sarcasm in serious academic writing.
Most people find office filing a pleasant (?) assignment. or
Most people find office filing as pleasant as having a bad case of the flu.
Question mark style conventions
1. Do not use a comma after a question mark occurring in the middle of a sentence.
"You didn't actually agree to that offer?" her boss asked incredulously.
2. Do not use a period after a question mark occurring in the end of a sentence, even if followed by quotation marks.
Did you actually take that offer?
3. When a question mark follows a quoted text, put it before the closing quotation mark if it applies just to the quoted text. Put the question mark outside the closing quotation mark if it applies to the entire sentence.
Do you think it would be better in this case to stick to the attitude of "what's in it for me”?
[Entire sentence in question]
I really do not like her attitude of "what's in it for me?"
[Only quoted text is in question, no extra period after a question mark]
4. When a question mark is used with parenthesis, put it inside the parenthesis if the enclosed sentence stands alone. When the parenthesis enclose just part of a sentence, put the question mark outside the parenthesis. Always add another terminal punctuation mark to the end of the sentence.
For months, she stayed in extra hours to complete the project (Was she that eager to get promoted?).
[Question mark inside the parenthesis, enclosed text is a stand alone sentence]
Did she really stay in extra hours to complete the project (despite being denied of a promotion)?
[Question mark outside the parenthesis, enclosed text is part of a sentence]
5. When a question mark immediately follows an italicized text, italicize it as well.
You're kidding, he didn't promote her?