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.

20 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. 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.

  4. 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 .


  5. Erin Cannon says:

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

  6. 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?

  7. 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.

  8. 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?

  9. 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!

  10. Becky says:

    I’ve long wondered about how to punctuate the following type of sentence:
    You can’t answer the question, “What is my purpose in life?” without answering, “What do I value?”
    My inclination would be to remove the comma before “What is my purpose in life?” and leave it after “answering,” but I would like to know what the rationale is. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer this; I see it frequently in my line of work.

    • says:

      The correct form for the sentence would be:
      You can’t answer the question “What is my purpose in life?” without answering “What do I value?”

      1) “What is my purpose in life?” is a restricted appositive of “question.”

      2) “What do I value?” is the object of a gerund phrase that is the object of the preposition “without.”

  11. John Middleton says:

    I think the looseness of suggesting that when a rhetorical question is used in written form, that the question mark may be omitted–is incorrect. Rhetorical questions should not be followed by question marks for the very purpose of indicating that it is rhetorical. There is no rhetoric, elegance, grace, and force of speech used with persuasion or attraction, when there is no clarity that defines the difference between a thought provoking idea and a direct question. Talk about missing the–mark–as it were.

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