Properly Punctuated: Question Mark

Posted September 7, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Properly Punctuated, Self-Editing, Writing

I’m always double-checking that indirect question. Is it really a question or is it a statement that expresses wonder or annoyance?

That interabang answers my own questions about the ? and ! combination. And who knew there was an actual mark for irony? It does eliminate one of the questions about the indirect question.

Properly Punctuated is…

…the proper use of quotation marks, commas, semicolons, colons, ellipsis, etc., including how to properly mark dialog, ahem. As Properly Punctuated is in no way complete, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone…

If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page — and consider sharing this Properly Punctuated tidbit with friends by tweeting it.

Question Mark, ?
Punctuation: ?
Definition: Ends a sentence and indicates that it is a direct question.

An indirect question should end with a period.


Types of Questions
Direct Question Definition: Asks a question.

Rule: Ends with a question mark.

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Can we go swimming now?
Indirect Question Definition: More of a meandering wonder.

Rule: Ends with a period.

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I wonder if we’ll ever get there.
Interabang, Definition: ?! and !? are used to express some question, excitement, surprise, or disbelief, depending upon the order in which the punctuation marks are used (Nancy Owens Barnes’ “Exclamation Mark: Its Use and Abuse!).

Rule: The first punctuation mark is your first reaction, or what you would use if you could only use one mark:

  • ?! – surprise followed by excitement
  • !? – excitement followed by surprise

While the ‽ is available, its use is very infrequent with preference going to the ?! or the !?

A.k.a., interrobang

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Example Expresses… Means
I am adopted?! shock then surprise Huh, what?
Thank god! I knew they couldn’t be my real parents!
You did what to the dog!? too funny then not really nice Teasing him with that treat was pretty funny!
How would you like it if I kept you away from your beer?
What are you doing?! surprise then disbelief Why would you do that?
I can’t believe you did that!
You got married?! total surprise then good feelings I can’t believe it.
You got married!
You got married!? happiness then confusion That’s great, you got married!
You got married?

The chess notations, ?! indicates an iffy move while !? indicates a risky yet interesting move.

Irony, Definition: Reversed question mark used at the end of a question that does not require an answer. Its use died out in the 17th century.

A.k.a., rhetorical question mark

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That’ll work⸮
You’re so clever⸮

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