Punctuating Questions

Do you know how to punctuate every kind of question?

Mignon Fogarty
Episode #264
Punctuating Questions

Polite Requests

Here's another strange rule: some style guides say that polite requests phrased as questions get a period instead of a question mark (1, 3, 4). For instance, they recommend putting a period at the end of a sentence like Would you bring me the marimbas. I find this very odd, since it is clearly a question, but the rationale is that it is really a demand masquerading as a question.

Surprising Questions

Finally, when you're asking a question in surprise such as What? it isn't appropriate to use multiple question marks or a question mark with an exclamation point. You're supposed to pick the terminal punctuation mark that is most appropriate and use just one (1). Is your statement more of a question or more of an outburst?

I've always found that solution unsatisfactory, so I was thrilled to learn that there's an obscure punctuation mark that was designed exclusively for asking questions in a surprised manner. It's called an interrobang, and it looks like an exclamation point superimposed on a question mark.

You shouldn't use the interrobang in formal writing, but I think it would be great if people started using it on blogs and in other informal communications. If you have the Wingdings 2 font in your word processing program, you can insert an interrobang as a special character, and there are unicode values that you can use to add the interrobang to your web site. I've put those at the bottom of this transcript.

Interrobang Codes

‽  Unicode decimal value
‽  Unicode hexidecimal value

Sometimes questions look like statements. Sometimes it's polite to use a question mark.


  1. The Chicago Manual of Style. Fourteenth Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993, p. 164.
  2. Shaw, H. Punctuate It Right! New York: Harper Paperbacks, 1993, p. 133.
  3. Lutz, G. and  Stevenson, D. Grammar Desk Reference. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 2005, p. 200.
  4. Stilman, A. Grammatically Correct. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 2004, p. 116. 
  5. Strumpf, M. and Douglas, A. The Grammar Bible. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004, p. 446.



About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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