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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
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
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Fix any sentences that need fixing. Our answers are at the end of the newsletter.
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?
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Our crazy English language.
The bandage was wound around the wound.
The farm was used to produce produce.
The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
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.
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.