By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated, November 26, 2013)
Most people know that question marks are added at the end of simple questions, but there are issues that often cause question mark confusion.
A Series of Questions
There are two options for a question series. You can either add one question mark at the end and separate the questions with commas or add a question mark after each item:
Should he take the pineapple, the watermelon, the water buffalo?
Should he take the pineapple? the watermelon? the water buffalo?
A Question at the End of a Sentence
When a question comes at the end of a sentence, you can either use a comma or a colon to introduce it. The question mark still goes at the end:
He asked himself, what should I do with all these hedgehogs?
He asked himself one question: What should I do with all these hedgehogs?
A Question Acting as a Statement
The following are indirect questions, so they are punctuated like statements (with a period rather than a question mark at the end):
I wondered why he wouldn’t introduce us to his imaginary friend.
He asked why she had dressed her potbellied pig in a pink frilly robe.
A Statement That Is Actually a Question
The same sentence can be a statement or a question depending on the punctuation at the end:
Jim’s imaginary friend told him that I have a dancing gerbil. (I have a dancing gerbil and Jim’s imaginary friend informed him of this fact.)
Jim’s imaginary friend told him that I have a dancing gerbil? (I’m asking if Jim’s imaginary friend told him that I have a dancing gerbil.)
Questions in Quotations
Place the question mark inside the quotation marks if the speaker is asking the question and outside if the whole sentence is a question:
“Where are all my sporks?” asked Orlando.
Orlando asked, “Where are all my sporks?”
Did Orlando just say, “My sporks are missing”?
Note: Never add commas or periods before or after question marks. (You’ll notice in the sentences above, when Orlando asked comes first, there is a comma before the question, but there is no comma after the question mark or quotation marks when asked Orlando comes at the end of the sentence).
- American Psychological Association. (2011). “Punctuating Around Quotation Marks.” Blog.APAStyle.org.
- Brians, P. (n.d.). Common Errors in English Language.
- Capital Community College Foundation. (n.d.). “Quotation Marks” and “Commas.” Grammar.ccc.commnet.edu.
- Fogarty, M. (2010). Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips.
- O’Conner, P. T. (1996). Woe Is I, the Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
- OWL at Purdue. (2013). “How to Use Quotation Marks” and “Extended Rules for Using Commas.” The Writing Lab & the OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. OWL.English.Purdue.edu.
- Strauss, J. (2013). Grammarbook.com.
- The Guardian. (2013). “‘The British style’? ‘The American way?’ They are not so different.” TheGuardian.com.
- Trask, L. (1997). Guide to Punctuation. University of Sussex.