No Question About It



Let’s see if you can spot what is wrong with this sentence? On closer inspection, most of you will see that the sentence should end in a period rather than a question mark.

Question marks are used only with direct questions. The sentence above certainly contains a direct question: what is wrong with this sentence? However, Let’s see if turns the sentence into an indirect question.

Here is the difference between direct and indirect questions: Do you agree? is a direct question. That same question is embedded in I wonder whether you agree. But now the sentence is a statement. The question is still there, but it is no longer direct.

Sentences that start with Let’s see if, I wonder whether, and the like are statements that ask questions in a roundabout way. Avoid the trap of ending such sentences with question marks.

Some sentences that sound like direct questions are really declarations (What wouldn’t I do for you), requests (Why don’t you take a break), or demands (Would you kids knock it off). Questions like these, which do not require or expect an answer, are called rhetorical questions. Because they are questions in form only, rhetorical questions may be written without question marks.

One-word questions within sentences do not ordinarily take question marks either. There might conceivably be a good reason to write The child asked, why? but that sentence is heavy-handed compared with The child asked why.

When direct questions of more than one word occur in the middle of a sentence, they are generally preceded with a comma, or sometimes a colon, and some writers capitalize the first word: Rantos wondered, How will I escape?

It is not wrong to capitalize a direct question in midsentence. Sometimes it’s a good idea, other times it can be distracting. Many writers would prefer Rantos wondered, how will I escape?—no capital—because the question how will I escape? is clear and concise.

The venerable Chicago Manual of Style offers this handy guideline: “A direct question may take an initial capital letter if it is relatively long or has internal punctuation.” Chicago then provides an example: Legislators had to be asking themselves, Can the fund be used for the current emergency, or must it remain dedicated to its original purpose?

You will notice that the stylebook says “may take,” not “must take.” When it comes to writing questions there is a lot of leeway. Some writers use a colon where others use a comma. Some capitalize where others do not. But an uncalled-for question mark is amateurish in anybody’s book.

 

Pop Quiz

Fix any sentences that need fixing. Our answers are below.

1. I’d like to ask, what makes you so sure?

2. Why don’t you run along home now?

3. The question is not only how? but also why?

4. I wonder if they’re coming over tonight?

5. I’d like to ask what makes you so sure?

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. I’d like to ask, what makes you so sure? CORRECT

2. Why don’t you run along home now.

3. The question is not only how but also why.

4. I wonder if they’re coming over tonight.

5. I’d like to ask what makes you so sure.

Posted on Tuesday, March 8, 2016, at 3:59 pm

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14 Comments on No Question About It

14 responses to “No Question About It”

  1. Allan M. says:

    Thank you for the question mark discussion. I’ve scratched my head many times over this.

  2. Robert M. says:

    Thank You. I really was using the Question Mark at the wrong time.

  3. Vienie V. says:

    Thankyou! I always enjoy your e-newsletters.

    This time, however, I do not agree with your POP QUIZ ANSWER no 2.

    2. Why don’t you run along home now? should remain as is – and NOT lose the question mark – simply because it is a direct question [introduced by Why] and needs the ? at the end.

    • Please compare pop quiz question No. 2 with the sentence in paragraph five: Why don’t you take a break. They are both rhetorical questions, which do not require a question mark (but you may use one if you wish). As we mention in the directions for the Pop Quiz, “Our answers [not the answers] are at the end of the newsletter.”

  4. Taylor B says:

    When would I use a question mark in the following sentence?
    Can we stay for 10 more mins the children asked.

  5. Rabab says:

    I would like to know whether the professional title in the following sentence should be capitalized:
    I was appointed/elected Secretary General of the union.
    Your quick response will be greatly appreciated.
    Regards,
    Rabab

  6. Debbie says:

    Hi, I’m sorry I asked this question before and don’t know where to find the answer again in the archives. I the following sentence, I was told that the second comma should be there, but what is the rule that tells us this?

    Through Jesus’ love and obedience to God, sinners are reunited to God, making it possible for us to receive faith that both presses on toward the goal of heaven and is able to establish healthy Christian priorities and balance on earth for generations.

    Thanks again for any help!

  7. Su says:

    What punctuation would I use after the following sentence?

    “I hope the hockey camp for your son is going well”

    I think it should be a ? but others say a .

    Thanks.

  8. Erin Cannon says:

    “What does depressed mean for you?”.
    Should the full stop be there? What are the reasoning/ rules around this?
    Thanks

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