Rule 1. Use a question mark only after a direct question.
Correct:Will you go with me?
Incorrect:I'm asking if you will go with me?
Rule 2a. A question mark replaces a period at the end of a sentence.
Incorrect:Will you go with me?.
Rule 2b. Because of Rule 2a, capitalize the word that follows a question mark.
Some writers choose to overlook this rule in special cases.
Example:Will you go with me? with Joe? with anyone?
Rule 3a. Avoid the common trap of using question marks with indirect questions, which are statements that contain questions. Use a period after an indirect question.
Incorrect:I wonder if he would go with me?
I wonder if he would go with me.
I wonder: Would he go with me?
Rule 3b. Some sentences are statements—or demands—in the form of a question. They are called rhetorical questions because they don't require or expect an answer. Many should be written without question marks.
Why don't you take a break.
Would you kids knock it off.
What wouldn't I do for you!
Rule 4. Use a question mark when a sentence is half statement and half question.
Example:You do care, don't you?
Rule 5a. The placement of question marks with quotation marks follows logic. If a question is within the quoted material, a question mark should be placed inside the quotation marks.
She asked, "Will you still be my friend?"
The question Will you still be my friend? is part of the quotation.
Do you agree with the saying, "All's fair in love and war"?
The question Do you agree with the saying? is outside the quotation.
Rule 5b. If a quoted question ends in midsentence, the question mark replaces a comma.
Example:"Will you still be my friend?" she asked.
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.
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