Using the Question Mark
This is a guest post by Steven Pittsley. If you want to write for Daily Writing Tips check the guidelines here.
Although often taken for granted, the question mark can be used for more than ending a direct question. Really? Yes.
The question mark was first seen in the eighth century when it 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 eighteenth century. For example, the Latin word for question is quaestio, which was abbreviated to ‘Qo’ in the Middle Ages. It’s thought that the modern symbol represents the ‘Q’ placed over the ‘O’.
Regardless of its origin, the question mark can be used in a variety of ways. One such use is to end a verb-less sentence. Although verb-less sentences may not be considered proper sentences in some circles, they are used quite frequently. Some examples include:
Ending a tag question is another use for the question mark. A tag question is a statement that is followed by a question, such as:
- He left early, didn’t he?
- The recipe calls for one cup sugar, right?
In a sentence containing a series of questions, you may include a question mark after each. Be careful with this type of writing. Although the use of a question mark is accepted, readers may find a long string of questions confusing.
- Who saw the victim last? Her husband? Her son? Her daughter?
- Which way are we supposed to turn at the corner? Right? Left?
Two places where the question mark should not be used are at the end of indirect questions or courteous requests. Although these types of sentences may seem to be questions, they do not require the use of the question mark.
- I asked my son if there were any messages.
- Will you please reply as soon as possible.
Although the choice to use the question mark us usually a fairly easy decision, some situations like these can make you think twice.
You can follow Steven on Twitter @drumming4you.
Browse all articles on the Punctuation category or check the recommended content for you below:
Improve your English in 5 minutes a day! Subscribe to our Writing Tips and Exercises via Email
- You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!
- Subscribers get access to our archives with 800+ interactive exercises!
- You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!