The Question Mark

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The question mark is used at the end of a direct question. Example: ‘What is your name?’ she asked.

It may also be used at the end of a tag question, which changes a statement into a question. Example: He left early, didn’t he?

Question marks should not be used at the end of indirect questions, such as: I asked my mother whether there were any messages.

In a sentence which contains multiple questions, you may include a question mark after each. Example: Who saw the victim last? Her husband? Her son? Her daughter?

Question marks are also used to denote missing information.

This punctuation mark was first seen in the 8th century and was called the punctus interrogativus. There are many theories about the origin of the symbol, which has changed several times before settling on its current form in the 18th century.

The Latin for question was quaestio, which was abbreviated to ‘Qo’ in the Middle Ages. It’s thought that the modern symbol represents the ‘Q’ placed over the ‘O’. The term ‘question mark’ dates from the 19th century.

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5 thoughts on “The Question Mark”

  1. Both the question mark and the exclamation mark indicate tone and thus do not necessarily end the sentence—i.e., they are not necessarily followed by a capital letter.

    Examples (from The Reader Over Your Shoulder, by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge):

    And then, horror! in march Mrs. Blackstone with the little corpse held out accusingly between the pincers of the kitchen fire-tongs!

    That she had asked herself, was he really there? or was she imagining things? now troubled her conscience.

  2. We often have to fix errors when question marks are used incorrectly, such as in this sentence:

    How he got there was anybody’s guess?

    Some grammar checkers will recommend using the question mark in this sample because the sentence begins with a common interrogative word: “How.”

    Grammar checkers are not trustworthy.

  3. Here’re nearly 3 sentences from an article I’m writing:
    “Why the difference in views? Who knows. I can relate to people who say ………….”

    I can’t decide whether to put a question mark after “Who knows” (instead of the stop).

    Which would be correct or preferable?

  4. Sorry, I should have added:

    “And which would be correct or preferable IN ENGLAND?”,
    in case there is a different approach there.

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