Question Marks (Uses and Examples)
Question MarksA question mark is used to show where a question ends. For example:
- If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one? (President Abraham Lincoln)
- If there is no God, who pops up the next Kleenex? (Author Art Hoppe)
- What's another word for Thesaurus? (Comedian Steven Wright)
Question Marks to Show InflectionOccasionally, most commonly in story-telling prose, a question mark is used to turn a sentence structured like statement into a question. The question mark tells the reader to add question inflection to the sentence. For example:
- You won the lottery?
- She passed her motorbike test?
- 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.")
- 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 parentheses (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 question 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 period (full stop). 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 period (full stop). 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? (Canadian author 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 (i.e., upside down) question mark. For example:
- ¿Que es eso? (What is that?)
How To Get an Upside Down Question MarkIn HTML (i.e., for your website), an "upside down question mark" is:
- 00bf (then press Alt+X)
- Alt+Ctrl+? (which is Alt+Ctrl+Shift+/)
The Rhetorical Question MarkA rhetorical question is a question for which no answer is expected.
- What's not to like?
- Wow, who knew he was so talented?
Why Should I Care about Question Marks?By far the most common error related to question marks is using a question mark for a non-question.
Don't use a question mark after a non-question.
- She wants to know if you've arrived?
- I wonder if he will ever find his mojo? (These are not questions but statements. They should end in periods (full stops).)
Read more about indirect questions.