Top Twenty Grammar Errors: The Question mark

Number twenty-three in our top twenty grammar errors: Question marks!
Check this pageout. Lots of question mark errors. Somebody at Yahoo! wasn’t using their style guide.
The question mark is such a simple thing, so why bother even looking at it? It simply goes after a question, so what’s the issue? Why is this error so vital to our writing?

Roy Peter Clark author of The Glamour of Grammar says, “The question mark, used well, may be the most profoundly human form of punctuation. Unlike the other marks, the question mark—except perhaps when used in a rhetorical question—imagines the Other. It envisions communication not as assertive by as interactive, even conversational. The question is the engine of debates and interrogations, of mysteries solved and secrets to be revealed, of conversations between student and teacher, of anticipation and explanation. There are Socratic questions, of course, where the interrogator already knows the answer. But more powerful is the open-ended question, the one that invites the other to act as the expert in telling his own experience” (Little, Brown, 2010).

The question mark is indeed powerful.
 
At its most basic, the question mark is used to indicate that a sentence is a question awaiting an answer.

Does Harry love Sally?
 
But the question mark can also be used to indicate surprise, skepticism, the unknown.
·         Are you joking me?
·         Who cares?
·         Really?
All of the above could be rewritten with periods or exclamation points as well, and is perfectly acceptable.
Sometimes we ask the question mark to do more work than necessary. Sentences referencing indirect questions never take a question mark.

Harry asked Sally if she was attending the New Year’s Eve party?
That’s wrong. The question mark should be a period.

 

 

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