Yes, I wrote an entire blog post about how to use a question mark and it wasn’t a waste of my time. Because, in truth, we all are afraid to ask our friends and peers how to add a question mark correctly to a specific question when sentence structure and formatting come into play.
Don’t be shy. It’s okay to keep reading.
But that’s not why you’re reading this blog post.
Some questions get complicated with how they are written. Do you include the question mark with the underlined or italicized word? Do you end the question with a period or a question mark when the last word is an abbreviation? Do you end rhetorical questions with a question mark, even though you are not urging for an answer?
These are questions that run through our minds when writing, from emails and letters to academic assignments and business reports. And what all of these forms of writing have in common is that there is someone who plans to read your writing. And that someone may notice your mistake of using—or leaving out—the question mark.
So let’s get your questions about question marks answered. Below is my Dos and Don’ts on how to use the question mark correctly.
DO Use Question Marks with Direct Questions
When the whole sentence is one question, end the sentence with a question mark:
- How is your day?
- Where can I find the nearest gas station?
- Did you enjoy your vacation with your family?
DON’T Use Multiple Punctuation to Express a Question
Since you are asking a question, you only apply the question mark. You do not use a period at the end or apply both a period and a question mark:
- INCORRECT: How is your day.
- INCORRECT: Where can I find the nearest gas station.?
The only exception to this rule is the interrobang. This special punctuation mark combines both the question mark and the exclamation point to express high energy within a question. The interrobang is found to be acceptable in informal forms of writing:
- You’re breaking up with me?!
- She said what to my mother?!
- He’s going to offer Janice the promotion?!
DON’T Use Question Marks with Indirect Questions
An indirect question is a sentence that describes a question while being expressed as a statement. In these instances, you want to end the sentence with a period, not a question mark:
- CORRECT: My mom asked me to sit down at the dining room table.
- INCORRECT: My mom asked me to sit down at the dining room table?
- CORRECT: I asked Leo if I could borrow his pencil.
- INCORRECT: I asked Leo if I could borrow his pencil?
DO Use Question Marks with Questions Within a Statement
Some sentences are statements, but with a question embedded within the expressed idea. In these instances, you should end the thought with a question mark:
- We can get to school on time, can’t we, if we take the city route?
- He thought: is Richard fast enough to beat me in the race?
DO Use Question Marks for Rhetorical Questions
While an answer for a rhetorical question is not expected to be given, a question mark must still appear at the end of the question to express that it is a question:
- Will this injustice never end?
- How many times do I have to tell you not to stomp around the house?
DO Use Question Marks For Follow-Up Questions
Several forms of writing address a larger question which are then followed by shorter questions that build upon the larger question. In these instances, begin each of these follow-up questions with a lower-case letter and end each question with a question mark:
- What’s that up in the sky? a bird? a plane? a drone?
DO Include Question Marks with Titles
If a question ends with a title of a piece of work, then it is included within its designated formatting. If a sentence ends with a title that is underlined, then the question mark is included in the underlined title. If a sentence ends with a title that is italicized, then the question mark is included in the italicized title:
- Did your teacher assign you to read To Kill a Mockingbird?
- What did you think of the community theater’s performance of Kiss Me, Kate?
If the title of the creative work includes a question mark, only apply one question mark to the end of the question:
- Has your child read Are You My Mother?
DO Use a Question Mark After an Abbreviation
If the question ends with an abbreviation, end the abbreviation, as usual, with a period, then add the question mark. The period is acceptable in this instance because it’s not acting as the end of the sentence but rather the end of the abbreviation:
- Are you traveling next summer to Washington, D.C.?
Did I miss one? What rule should we always remember when it comes to adding a question mark to a question? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.