Grammar Question Marks with Quotation Marks |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Question Marks with Quotation Marks

Last week, we examined the strict rule governing periods and commas with quotation marks. This week, let’s look at the more logical rules governing the use of question marks with quotation marks.

Rule – The placement of question marks with quotations follows logic. If a question is in quotation marks, the question mark should be placed inside the quotation marks.

Examples:
She asked, “Will you still be my friend?”

Do you agree with the saying, “All’s fair in love and war”?
Here the question is outside the quote.

NOTE: Although some writers and editors disagree in special cases, only one ending punctuation mark is necessary with quotation marks. Also, the stronger punctuation mark wins. Therefore, no period after war is used.

 

Rule – When you have a question outside quoted material AND inside quoted material, use only one question mark and place it inside the quotation mark.

Example:
Did she say, “May I go?”

 

Pop Quiz

Choose the correct sentence.

1A. The song asks, “Would you like to swing on a star?”

1B. The song asks, “Would you like to swing on a star”?

 

2A. “Is it almost over?” he asked?

2B. “Is it almost over?” he asked.

2C. “Is it almost over?,” he asked.

2D. “Is it almost over,” he asked?

 

3A. Do you believe the saying, “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it”?

3B. Do you believe the saying, “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it?”

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1A. The song asks, “Would you like to swing on a star?”

2B. “Is it almost over?” he asked.

3A. Do you believe the saying, “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it”?

 

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 “Question Marks with Quotation Marks”

  1. Michael says:

    I’ve been unable to find a definitive answer about the proper punctuation of sentences consisting of two independent clauses joined by a conjunction in which the first independent clause ends with a quoted question. See the example. I assume that the second comma in the example should be omitted. I realize that one could start a new sentence at “but,” but do the rules of grammar force that one start a new sentence at “but”? If I prefer one sentence, should I place a semicolon where the second comma is? My guess is that the example would be OK as one sentence if the second comma is omitted?
    Example:
    The teacher asked slyly, “Is there a hidden assumption?”, but she immediately answered her own question.
    Thanks in advance!

    • Grammarbook says:

      Your sentence is correct if the second comma is omitted and no semicolon is added.
      The teacher asked slyly, “Is there a hidden assumption?” but she immediately answered her own question.

      Another approach could be to recast:
      “Is there a hidden assumption?” the teacher asked slyly, but she immediately answered her own question.

  2. Brian J. says:

    I see on Amazon.com that you are coming out with a new edition of “The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation.” Perhaps you have already addressed the following minor issue that I spotted the other day in my “Eighth Edition” of the book:

    In “Table of Contents > Punctuation > Quotation Marks…40” it says, “Placement with periods, commas, question marks, and semicolons…,” but does not mention “semicolons” on page 40 or 41. Nor are “semicolons” addressed on the associated web page on your website: https://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/quotes.asp.

    Additionally, typing ” ‘semicolon’ AND ‘quotation marks’ ” into the “Search Box” at the upper-right of your web pages reveals “0 results per page.”

    • Jane says:

      That is an excellent observation that no one had yet pointed out to us. The latest edition in circulation is the tenth, and it contains the same oversight in the Table of Contents that you noted in your eighth edition. You are correct that the eleventh edition will be coming out in February 2014. The oversight is remedied in that the Table of Contents will not mention semicolons under the Quotation Marks heading. The reason there is no discussion of this in the book or on the website is that it is rare to encounter a semicolon next to a quotation mark, and we did not want to dwell on rare circumstances in the book. When you do have this situation, treat it as you would a question mark: follow logic.

  3. Cindy says:

    I don’t understand the difference between saying, Do you agree with the saying, and did she ask as two different things. Aren’t they both questions? So wouldn’t the examples with the do you agree with the saying have the quotations marks on the inside, since technically the person is asking do you agree? Please explain this, i’m really confused.

    • Jane says:

      It is helpful if you look at the words that are inside the quotation marks. The first example is She asked, “Will you still be my friend?” “Will you still be my friend?” is a question, therefore, the question mark belongs inside the quotation marks. The second example is Do you agree with the saying, “All’s fair in love and war”? “All’s fair in love and war” is not a question. Therefore, the question mark should not be inside the quotation marks.

      • Aaron says:

        Has the rule about question marks inside quotation marks changed at any point? I thought that I was taught that at the end of a sentence, the question mark (or any punctuation) would always go inside the end quotation marks. It always seemed awkward, but I’m sure that’s what our grammar teachers taught (this would have been in the 1970s/early 1980s, in Ohio). I guess it’s plausible that they were all wrong, or that I just learned it wrong. Thoughts?

        • GrammarBook.com says:

          With all due respect, your memory may be playing tricks. Question marks must go where logic takes them.

  4. Mac S. says:

    Does this rule apply to exclamation points as well as question marks? Please clarify this on the website.

    • Jane says:

      We feel that this is gray territory, best left alone. However, you’re not likely to get into much trouble if you follow this question mark guidance for exclamation points.

  5. Vanessa says:

    When quoting a book does the question mark go outside or inside the quotation marks? For example: “how could kingship please me more than influence, power/without a qualm?” (Oedipus Rex 664-665). Or would it be “how could kingship please me more than influence, power/without a qualm” (Oedipus Rex 664-665)?

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      Since it is part of the quote, the question mark goes inside the quotation marks. It is usually a good idea to begin a quotation with a capital letter.

      “How could kingship please me more than influence, power without a qualm?” (Oedipus Rex 664-665)

  6. Cathy F. says:

    Does an “invitation” in the form of a question take a question mark?

    Examples:

    Why don’t you drop on by and have some cookies.

    Why don’t you come by the house and watch the football game with me.

    It is my contention that an invitation in the form of a question does
    “not” take a question mark, but does take a period instead, as shown
    above. Am I correct?

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      CMOS says: “A request disguised as a question does not require a question mark.” Your sentences are rhetorical questions (see our Rule 3b of Question Marks), which may be written without question marks.

  7. Wordforeword says:

    I am unable to find an answer to my needs. For a direct quotation that is a question, do you put both a question mark and a comma before closing the quotation?

    Example: “How are you doing?” Mom said.
    Question: Do you need a comma after the question mark before the quotation marks?

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      There are times when some editors would follow a question mark with a comma, but it isn’t necessary in this case. We have added Rule 13d to our Commas section online and Rule 5b to our Question Marks section to address this situation.

      On another topic, do you think “Mom asked” would be an improvement over “Mom said” in your sentence?

  8. Michael says:

    Please explain the rules regarding lists of questions in quotations. Please correct all the errors in the following example:

    Which should elicit the questions, “why are we here,” “where is here,” and “what difference does it make anyways?”

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      You could write the following:
      …which should elicit the following questions: Why are we here? Where is here? What difference does it make anyway?

  9. Roger Dunnick says:

    I understand the quotation-mark punctuation in the following sentence:

    “How do you do things?,” “Why do you do things?,” and “Where do you do things?” he asked.

    But what about the ?, combination in the following sentence?

    He asked me, “Why do I do what I do?,” to which I responded, “I don’t know.”

    Also, which of the following two sentences is punctuated correctly?

    The question was “Why do I do what I do?”
    -or-
    The question was, “Why do I do what I do?”

    Thanks.

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      Our Rule 5b of Question Marks says, “If a quoted question ends in midsentence, the question mark replaces a comma.” Therefore, the following are correct:
      “How do you do things?” “Why do you do things?” and “Where do you do things?” he asked.
      He asked me, “Why do I do what I do?” to which I responded, “I don’t know.”
      Our Rule 3c of Quotation Marks says, “If a quotation functions as a subject or object in a sentence, it might not need a comma.” Therefore, we recommend writing the following:
      The question was “Why do I do what I do?”

  10. Katherine Rose Carrick says:

    Is this grammatically correct:

    I remember her saying something like, “if I don’t understand the relevance of the assignment, then why am I teaching it?”.

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      Our Rule 2a of Quotation Marks says, “Always capitalize the first word in a complete quotation, even midsentence.” As the post states, only one ending punctuation mark is necessary with quotation marks. Therefore, the following is grammatically correct:

      I remember her saying something like, “If I don’t understand the relevance of the assignment, then why am I teaching it?”

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