question mark


question mark
 has become an overworked embellishment of the expression "a question hanging over," which is itself wearyingly overused. Consider: "The case... has raised a question mark over the competence of British security" (The Times). Would you say of a happy event that it had raised an exclamation mark over the proceedings or that a pause in negotiations had a comma hanging over them?
 Punctuation
 The question mark comes at the end of a question. That sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But it’s astonishing how frequently writers fail to include it. Two random examples: " ‘Why travel all the way there when you could watch the whole thing at home,’ he asked" (Times); "The inspector got up to go and stood on Mr. Ellis’s cat, killing it. ‘What else do you expect from these people,’ said the artist" (Standard).
 Occasionally question marks are included when they are not called for, as in this sentence by Trollope, cited by Fowler: "But let me ask of her enemies whether it is not as good a method as any other known to be extant?" The problem here is a failure to distinguish between a direct question and an indirect one. Direct questions always take question marks: "Who is going with you?" Indirect questions never do: "I would like to know who is going with you."
 When direct questions take on the tone of a command, the use of a question mark becomes more discretionary. "Will everyone please assemble in my office at four o’clock?" is strictly correct, but not all authorities insist on the question mark there.
 A less frequent problem arises when a direct question appears outside a direct quotation. Fieldhouse, in Everyman’s Good English Guide, suggests that the following punctuation is correct: "Why does this happen to us, we wonder?" The Fowler brothers, however, call this an amusing blunder; certainly it is extremely irregular. The more usual course is to attach the question mark directly to the question. Thus: "Why does this happen to us? we wonder." But such constructions are clumsy and are almost always improved by being turned into indirect questions: "We wonder why this happens to us."

Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors. 2013.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • question mark — ˈquestion mark noun [countable] a question mark over if there is a question mark over something, there is a possibility that it will not be successful or will not continue to exist: • There is a big question mark over the bank s long term future …   Financial and business terms

  • question mark — 1. The principal use of the question mark (?) is to indicate a direct question: Are they leaving tomorrow? / What time is it? It is also used when the question is put in the form of a statement: They told you that? / Surely it s the same one? / I …   Modern English usage

  • question mark — n 1.) the mark (?) that is used at the end of a question 2.) there is a question mark over sth/a question mark hangs over sth used to say that there is a possibility that something will not be successful or will not continue to exist ▪ A big… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • question mark — question marks 1) N COUNT A question mark is the punctuation mark ? which is used in writing at the end of a question. 2) N COUNT: oft N over n If there is doubt or uncertainty about something, you can say that there is a question mark over it.… …   English dictionary

  • question mark — question ,mark noun count * the symbol ? that is used at the end of a sentence to show that it represents a question. It is a type of punctuation mark. a question mark over something a doubt about whether something is good or correct, or whether… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • question mark — n. 1. a mark of punctuation (?) put after a sentence, word, etc. to indicate a direct question, and also used to express doubt, uncertainty, etc.; interrogation mark ☆ 2. an unknown factor …   English World dictionary

  • question mark — ► NOUN ▪ a punctuation mark (?) indicating a question …   English terms dictionary

  • Question Mark —   [engl.], Fragezeichen …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Question mark — ? redirects here. For other uses, see Question mark (disambiguation). For the backwards or mirrored question mark used to indicate irony or sarcasm, see percontation point. For Wikipedia s help pages, see Help:Contents ? Question mark …   Wikipedia

  • question mark —    has become an overworked embellishment of the expression a question hanging over, which is itself weary ingly overused. Consider: The case . . . has raised a question mark over the competence of British security (Times). Would you say of a… …   Dictionary of troublesome word