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Punctuating Questions

Do you know how to punctuate every kind of question?

By
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.

References

  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.

 

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