Question marks, or interrogation marks, are the termination marks used to turn a statement into a question.
In their most straightforward use, they can simply be used instead of a full stop as follows:
- John is going to the theatre.
- John is going to the theatre?
Although this method of forming a question is grammatically correct, it is more conventional in English to also signal a question at the beginning of the sentence. This can be done through noun-verb inversion:
- Is John going to the theatre?
A question can also be signalled through the use of question words such as how, why, when, which and where:
- When is John going to the theatre?
- Why is John going to the theatre?
Question marks are only used to complete direct questions as opposed to indirect questions, which are statements which report questions rather than ask them directly:
- Is anybody going to the gig tonight?
- She asked if anybody was going to the gig.
Question marks follow broadly the same rules as exclamation marks. In the majority of cases, a capital letter must be used following a question mark, as it is treated like a full stop:
- Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side.
However, when used in a clause in parenthesis (i.e. inside brackets), or as part of a direct quotation within a sentence which continues after the quotation, a question mark can be followed by a lower-case letter:
- Jane hated Monday mornings (doesn't everyone?) but she had to get up anyway.
- He asked "Why am I here?" but the guard gave no answer.
Note that the question mark, like an exclamation mark, goes inside the brackets and quotation marks. Also, in the second example, notice that a question mark is used, even though the words 'he asked' suggest an indirect question - this is because anything inside quotation marks is treated as direct speech or a direct statement, and so this clause is a direct question.
Question marks also follow the same rules as exclamation marks when they are used inside brackets or quotation marks at the end of a main sentence:
- Jane hated Monday mornings (doesn't everyone?).
- He asked "Why am I here?"
In the first example, a full stop is needed after the closing bracket, but a full stop is not needed in the second example after the closing quotation mark.
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