Sentences with Interrogative Elements Are Not Questions

By Mark Nichol

Writers sometimes erroneously assume that when a statement includes a phrase beginning with who, what, when, where, why, or how (or what or which), it should be treated as an interrogative, or question. However, whether the sentence should be punctuated with a question mark depends on how a verb is juxtaposed with the interrogative word and how the sentence is otherwise structured. Each of the sentences below is incorrectly treated as a question. Discussion after each example describes the problem, and a revision solves it.

1. It is essential to ask why organizations have vendors, and how organizations get those vendors set up?

This sentence is declarative, not interrogative, so a period should replace the question mark. However, the two key phrases in it can be converted to questions by inserting a verb after each of the interrogative words and posing the resultant questions as if they were being quoted: “It is essential to ask, ‘Why do organizations have vendors?” and ‘How can organizations get those vendors set up?’”

2. One has to question how is any award that includes the words “Best Female” still a thing?

To convert the sentence to a declarative statement, is must be relocated to precede “still a thing”: “One has to question how any award that includes the words ‘Best Female’ is still a thing.” To enable it to function as a question, the sentence must be restructured so that the interrogative core is established as a conjectural quotation within a declarative statement: “One has to ask the question ‘How is any award that includes the words “Best Female” still a thing?’”

3. We must prioritize and clearly identify what are these top infrastructure issues and make a meaningful decision about where do we spend the money as it relates to infrastructure?

Just as with the previous example, the form of the verb “to be” must be moved: “We must prioritize and clearly identify what these top infrastructure issues are and make a meaningful decision about where we spend the money as it relates to infrastructure.” To enable the questions embedded in this sentence to function as interrogatives, the statement must be heavily revised and subdivided to isolate them: “What are these top infrastructure issues? Where do we spend the money as it relates to infrastructure? We must prioritize and clearly identify problems to answer the first question and make a meaningful decision about the second one.”

Recommended for you: « »



1 Response to “Sentences with Interrogative Elements Are Not Questions”

  • Petra

    This seems to be rather a strange, circuitous way of describing the errors and remedies. It is misleading to state that these are not questions. They are indirect questions. When a direct question is made indirect (in effect, becomes reported), the inversion in the direct question is reversed. That is all that is going on here: the writers of the incorrect sentences have failed to rectify the inversion in the indirect sentence.

Leave a comment: