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Question Mark Definition, Punctuation and Examples

How to Use a Question Mark

The question mark is an interesting grammatical device which can be used in a few different ways, though it is most often seen at the end of direct questions. Whether writing correspondence or completing academic assignments, you may find yourself wondering how to use question marks correctly. Here is a brief guide to help you get started.

Use question marks when writing direct questions such as those in the following examples.

  • How are you?
  • Where can I find a bargain on a good laptop?
  • What did you think of the movie?

Do not use question marks when writing indirect questions such as those in the following examples.

  • The coach asked the quarterback to sit on the bench. (correct)
  • The coach asked the quarterback to sit on the bench? (incorrect)
  • I asked my brother if I could borrow fifty dollars. (correct)
  • I asked my brother if I could borrow fifty dollars? (incorrect)

Be careful, since indirect questions like those above can sometimes be mistaken for questions embedded in statements; these call for question marks.

  • We can boil water faster, can’t we, if we use the microwave?
  • Her question was, why do dogs come in so many different sizes?
  • I wonder: Might Jeremy run for class president again?

Use question marks when writing rhetorical questions, even though no answers are expected.

  • How will the World Series turn out, after all is said and done?
  • Who is really to blame for the world’s problems?

Sometimes, editorials and other types of writing include brief questions that are essentially follow-up questions to the larger question being addressed. When incorporating these questions, begin each with a lower-case letter and end each one with a question mark.

  • Who is responsible for traffic safety? the police? the road maintenance division? drivers?

If a question mark is part of an underlined title, be sure that the question mark is also underlined.

  • Did you ever read Hamlet?

If a question mark is part of an italicized title, be sure that the question mark is also italicized.

  • Have you ever seen a live performance of The Sound of Music?

If a question mark is part of a title, you can use that question mark to end your sentence rather than adding a period.

  • When I was a child, one of my favorite books was Where’s Waldo?

When writing a question that concludes with an abbreviation, end the abbreviation with a period as usual and then add a question mark.  Do not put a space between the period and the question mark.

  • Weren’t we supposed to head toward Washington, D.C.?

Anytime a question constitutes a request or conveys instruction, it is typically followed by a period rather than a question mark. This is particularly true of requests that are long and complex.

  • Would all who are sitting in end seats with spaces toward the middle please move toward the center of the row.

Would you like to learn more? Click here to learn how to properly use quotation marks

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