Question Mark usage
Use a question mark to end a direct question, a tag question, or to terminate a question that ends with an abbreviation. Question marks can also be used in combination with other punctuation marks, such as periods and quotation marks, as well as with italicized text. Lastly, there are some informal uses of question marks we will discuss below.
Use a question mark to terminate a direct question
Use a question mark to end a direct question. A direct question is also known as an interrogative sentence.
- Will you be coming over tonight?
- Are you feeling okay?
- Did you close the door behind you?
Use a question mark to end a tag question
Take a look at the examples below, the question is asked by the two words at the end. This is called a tag question. If you remove the tag at the end, you will be left with a declarative sentence. It’s the tag at the end that makes it a question. We ask this type of question when we want someone to confirm something that we think is true.
- She’s very pretty, isn’t she?
- They won’t be back tonight, will they?
- We need to bring our camping gear, don’t we?
Question mark used with an abbreviation
If an abbreviation falls at the end of a direct question, we put the question mark after the last period of the abbreviation with no space between them.
- Do you really work for the F.B.I.?
- Should we bring food, water, clothing, etc.?
- Is your real name Ronald McDonald, Jr.?
Using a question mark with quotation marks
1. If the quote can stand on its own as a complete question, place the question mark inside the quotation marks.
- She asked, “How do I know you’re telling me the truth?”
- “When will I ever learn?” he said to himself.
2. If the quote cannot stand on its own as a complete question and is part of a larger direct question, the question mark should be placed outside of the quotation marks.
- Did you know he said he won’t “ever go back to prison”?
- Why do you think we will “never be here again”?
Question mark used with italicized text
We often use italicized text to indicate the titles of books, movies, or music albums. If the question mark is actually part of the original title, it should be italicized as well. In the last example below, the question mark is not part of the movie’s title.
- One book I have yet to read is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, by Edward Albee.
- Tonight we watched the horror movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
- Do you like the song Jingle Bells?
Informal use of a question mark
Sometimes you might want a question to indicate stronger emotion than a question mark alone can provide. For this type of sentence, it might seem appropriate to use an exclamation point in addition to the question mark. There is a single symbol to represent this type of sentence called an interrobang. It looks like a question mark and an exclamation point combined. The interrobang has not gained widespread acceptance yet, so you should use it only for informal writing, if at all.
- What did you say to me‽
- You won the grand prize‽