Punctuation Quiz #3: Question Marks

By Mark Nichol

All but one of the following sentences demonstrate incorrect style for question marks according to The Chicago Manual of Style; revise the sentence as necessary:

1. Am I to blame? he asked himself.

2. “Were you in the war?,” I asked.

3. I wondered whether she would ever speak to me again?

4. Would you please hand me that report?

5. Why, when she’s already upset, would you say, “I told you so?”

Solutions

A question mark indicates an interrogative, or direct question. It may also be used to signal disbelief, surprise, or uncertainty in a declarative or imperative sentence.

1.
Original: Am I to blame? he asked himself.
Correct : Am I to blame? he asked himself.

A question mark may appear in the midst of a sentence if a direct question is part of that sentence. This sentence is correct.

2.
Original: “Were you in the war?,” I asked.
Correct : “Were you in the war?” I asked.

When a question mark appears at the end of a quotation or a line of dialogue, it supplants the comma that would normally be located there. (An exception is made for the previous rule when what is quoted is a title of a work, as in “His short story ‘Who Will Watch the Watchers?,’ his first published piece, appeared in an anthology.”)

3.
Original: I wondered whether she would ever speak to me again?
Correct : I wondered whether she would ever speak to me again.

No question mark is used in an indirect quotation. (The same rule applies when a question within a sentence consists of a single word that often begins a stated question, such as in “I knew it would happen, but I asked myself when.”)

4.
Original: Would you please hand me that report?
Correct : Would you please hand me that report.

A request that could be truncated into an imperative does not require a question mark.

5.
Original: Why, when she’s already upset, would you say, “I told you so?”
Correct : Why, when she’s already upset, would you say, “I told you so”?

A question mark appears after a close quotation mark, not before it, if it applies to the framing sentence rather than the quoted material.

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