The Correct Use Of Question Marks (?)

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Punctuation marks are special symbols that are used to aid the clarity and comprehension of written language. They are conventional signs and certain typographical devices that help in the understanding and correct reading of written texts, whether read silently or aloud. Marks of punctuation help readers to interpret sentences effectively. In this write up, one of the end marks will be examined. This end mark is the “QUESTION MARK (?).” 

Before I start dishing out these rules, you all must note that under no circumstances within a formal context will more than a question mark be requested. It is very common to  see people use more than a question mark (?) when expressing emotions, most especially displeasure and anger. Regardless of how heightened the emotion might be, just a question mark (?) is needed. 

Why are you disturbing me?✅

NOT:

Why are you disturbing me??????????❌

The use of a million question marks does not mean the person will let you be free of his or her disturbance. This clarified, we can now go on to look at the rules that govern the use of question marks (?).

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(a) It is used after a direct question:

Examples:

Where are you going to?

Do you know his name?

Were you guys ever friends?

(b) A question mark should not be used after an indirect question that is reported rather than asked directly. A period should be used instead.

Example:

He asked me who my parents were? (Wrong)❌

He asked me who my parents were. (Correct)✅

(c) A question mark should be used after a direct question within a declarative sentence. 

Examples:

He asked me, ‘who are your parents?’

‘Why did you do it?’ My mother questioned.

(d) A comma should not be used after a question mark to separate a quotation from the remainder of a sentence.

Examples:

‘Whom did you give?’, his father requested. (Incorrect).❌

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‘Whom did you give?’ His father requested. (Correct)✅

(e) Capitalise the first letter of a word, phrase or clause that comes after a question mark for a question mark is an end mark. 

Examples:

Will you go there alone? With John? With all of us?

What are you scared of? My parents? I myself? Everything? 

(f) Though, in most cases, question marks are used for polite requests, a period or exclamatory marks may  also be used as some of these questions are rhetorical which surely do not anticipate any answer from the listeners or hearers.

Examples:

Would you love to visit me?

Death, what are you!

Could you help with some phone numbers at least.

Why don’t you take a break.

Life, why are you not fair at times!

(g) A question mark should be used when each item of the series poses a separate question.

Example:

What will you use to fight him? A sword? A cub? Barehandedly? 

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NOTE: When the sense of a question mark is not complete until the final word of a series, use only one question mark.

Examples:


Is she a good, bad, or crazy lady?

Are the boys crying, singing or shouting out loud?

(h) Use a question mark when a sentence is half statement and half question, also at the end of a tag.

Examples:

You don’t love him, do you?

She will go there, won’t she?

Mariam surely does not care about you, does she?

(i) A question mark within parentheses is used to express the writer’s uncertainty as to the correctness of the preceding words, figures, dates or some item of information.

Examples:

Jude was born in 1930 (?) and he lived till 1999.

We left our uncle’s place in December 28 (?) and I am sure we went for our Grandma’s place two weeks after.

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