Grammar No Question About It |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

No Question About It

Let’s see if you can spot what is wrong with this sentence? On closer inspection, most of you will see that the sentence should end in a period rather than a question mark.

Question marks are used only with direct questions. The sentence above certainly contains a direct question: what is wrong with this sentence? However, Let’s see if turns the sentence into an indirect question.

Here is the difference between direct and indirect questions: Do you agree? is a direct question. That same question is embedded in I wonder whether you agree. But now the sentence is a statement. The question is still there, but it is no longer direct.

Sentences that start with Let’s see if, I wonder whether, and the like are statements that ask questions in a roundabout way. Avoid the trap of ending such sentences with question marks.

Some sentences that sound like direct questions are really declarations (What wouldn’t I do for you), requests (Why don’t you take a break), or demands (Would you kids knock it off). Questions like these, which do not require or expect an answer, are called rhetorical questions. Because they are questions in form only, rhetorical questions may be written without question marks.

One-word questions within sentences do not ordinarily take question marks either. There might conceivably be a good reason to write The child asked, why? but that sentence is heavy-handed compared with The child asked why.

When direct questions of more than one word occur in the middle of a sentence, they are generally preceded with a comma, or sometimes a colon, and some writers capitalize the first word: Rantos wondered, How will I escape?

It is not wrong to capitalize a direct question in midsentence. Sometimes it’s a good idea, other times it can be distracting. Many writers would prefer Rantos wondered, how will I escape?—no capital—because the question how will I escape? is clear and concise.

The venerable Chicago Manual of Style offers this handy guideline: “A direct question may take an initial capital letter if it is relatively long or has internal punctuation.” Chicago then provides an example: Legislators had to be asking themselves, Can the fund be used for the current emergency, or must it remain dedicated to its original purpose?

You will notice that the stylebook says “may take,” not “must take.” When it comes to writing questions there is a lot of leeway. Some writers use a colon where others use a comma. Some capitalize where others do not. But an uncalled-for question mark is amateurish in anybody’s book.


Pop Quiz

Fix any sentences that need fixing. Our answers are below.

1. I’d like to ask, what makes you so sure?

2. Why don’t you run along home now?

3. The question is not only how? but also why?

4. I wonder if they’re coming over tonight?

5. I’d like to ask what makes you so sure?


Pop Quiz Answers

1. I’d like to ask, what makes you so sure? CORRECT

2. Why don’t you run along home now.

3. The question is not only how but also why.

4. I wonder if they’re coming over tonight.

5. I’d like to ask what makes you so sure.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

22 responses to “No Question About It”

  1. Allan M. says:

    Thank you for the question mark discussion. I’ve scratched my head many times over this.

  2. Robert M. says:

    Thank You. I really was using the Question Mark at the wrong time.

  3. Vienie V. says:

    Thankyou! I always enjoy your e-newsletters.

    This time, however, I do not agree with your POP QUIZ ANSWER no 2.

    2. Why don’t you run along home now? should remain as is – and NOT lose the question mark – simply because it is a direct question [introduced by Why] and needs the ? at the end.

    • says:

      Please compare pop quiz question No. 2 with the sentence in paragraph five: Why don’t you take a break. They are both rhetorical questions, which do not require a question mark (but you may use one if you wish). As we mention in the directions for the Pop Quiz, “Our answers [not the answers] are at the end of the newsletter.”

  4. Taylor B says:

    When would I use a question mark in the following sentence?
    Can we stay for 10 more mins the children asked.

    • says:

      Since your sentence contains a direct quotation, we recommend writing the following:
      “Can we stay for 10 more minutes?” the children asked.

  5. Debbie says:

    I’m sorry I asked this question before and don’t know where to find the answer again in the archives. I the following sentence, I was told that the second comma should be there, but what is the rule that tells us this?

    Through Jesus’ love and obedience to God, sinners are reunited to God, making it possible for us to receive faith that both presses on toward the goal of heaven and is able to establish healthy Christian priorities and balance on earth for generations.

    Thanks again for any help!

    • says:

      The added information after the comma is called “nonrestrictive” or “nonessential.” Nonessential information should be enclosed in commas. (See our response of February 7, 2016, in our post Year-End Quiz.)

  6. Su says:

    What punctuation would I use after the following sentence?

    “I hope the hockey camp for your son is going well”

    I think it should be a ? but others say a .


  7. Erin Cannon says:

    “What does depressed mean for you?”.
    Should the full stop be there? What are the reasoning/ rules around this?

  8. Serah says:

    Is it correct to use a question mark in a statement like this?

    Many are wandering aimlessly, confused, and frustrated in the journey of life. Don’t know where to go, what to do and how to do it?

    • says:

      If you wish it to be a question, we recommend rewriting your second statement as a full sentence and as a direct question:
      Many are wandering aimlessly, confused and frustrated in the journey of life. Do they not know where to go, what to do and how to do it?

  9. Jasmine says:

    I’m wondering if there is a correct version of “it is” vs “is it.” Ex. It is not Wednesday? Is it not Wednesday? Is one of these grammatically incorrect?

    • says:

      We prefer to use “Is it Wednesday?” in formal writing. Although “It is not Wednesday?” is grammatically correct (and particularly understood from inflection when spoken), typically “It is not Wednesday” is a statement rather than a question.

      In addition, we recommend avoiding negative constructions in writing other than to negate (e.g., “It is not Wednesday”). Using a negative construction to express something without meaning to negate it makes the receiving mind work harder to process it, compromising both comprehension and retention.

  10. Susan Simmons says:

    What punctuation, if any, is needed in the following sentence: I gave the woman a copy of my book “Who is this Jesus?”
    My kindle doesn’t italicize nor underline. The book title ends with a question mark. Is a period needed for the end of the sentence?

  11. Megan says:

    Which is correct?

    Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one who wins!

    Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the one who wins!

  12. amy says:

    Most non-relatable question (possibly ever):

    OK, so the context is I’m transcribing a video. In the video, a speaker is reading aloud tweets which are also represented on the screen in a graphic (the program has a talk show-type format, so this is a segment where the hosts answer questions submitted to them via social media).

    Here’s the tweet itself, exactly as it’s shown on screen, but I’m including the quotation marks that I have to add as the transcriber since the speaker here is quoting the text of the tweet verbatim:

    “What are your minimum expectations for next season? Playoffs or bust?”

    Now, here’s where it gets disproportionately complicated and where my question arises. The speaker whose speech I’m transcribing reads the tweet word for word all the way to “Playoffs or bust,” at which point he says the words “question mark.” My transcription thus ends up being: “Playoffs or bust question mark,” so my question is this (all the buildup will not have been worth it; I apologize in advance):

    Do I need to transcribe a quotation mark after the words “question mark”? Do I just omit the fact that he says “question mark” at all and write the sentence as it originally appears?

    Again, this is a stupidly specific question that either a) no one in history has ever asked before on the internet or b) has indeed been asked and answered somewhere online and apparently I’m just personally incapable of producing any relevant search results about it (due to not phrasing my search terms/question efficiently/etc. or something in that category of human error).

    • says:

      While our grammar guidelines do not typically address style for transcription, our inclination would be to transcribe only the words and punctuation that will be spoken. In other words, “Playoffs or bust question mark.” as opposed to “Playoffs or bust question mark?”

Leave a Comment or Question:

Please ensure that your question or comment relates to the topic of the blog post. Unrelated comments may be deleted. If necessary, use the "Search" box on the right side of the page to find a post closely related to your question or comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *