Updated: May 24, 2022
A Few Answers about Questions and Question Marks
By Michael Heath / selfpublishingUS.com
The Riddler of Batman comic books, TV shows and movies was a villain who used riddles, puzzles, and traps to prove intellectual superiority over those attempting to bring him to justice. He wore a campy costume of green tights covered in question marks. In this pop culture example, the punctuation mark is a bit entertaining, even funny. When it comes to good writing, things get more serious.
Most everyone knows that question marks are used at the end of question sentences (a.k.a. interrogative sentences). Is that all that any writer needs to know about this punctuation? That’s a good question. And the answer is no.
Granted, direct questions end (full stop) with a question mark. But how about sentences that contain indirect questions? Those are usually declarative sentences which fully stop with a period.
Who completed the homework assignment?
The teacher asked the class who completed the homework assignment.
Getting in the Middle
Occasionally, question marks appear to be “impatient” and show up in the middle of a sentence, replacing a comma at the end of a clause or phrase. Here are a couple of examples:
Should the soup chef have added thyme? Tarragon? Oregano?
Would the soup have tasted better with a pinch of thyme? Or a little tarragon? Or by adding a dash of oregano?
Question marks are used inside parentheses when pieces of information are uncertain. Historians do not know many important details of explorer Henry Hudson including when he was born or exactly when and where he died. The following phrase provides about (circa) when Hudson was born, a timetable as to when he met his fate (after mutineers set him adrift), and the likely place the explorer spent his final day:
(born c. 1565, England – died after June 22, 1611, in or near Hudson Bay?)
Question Marks - More is Not Better
Some writers may feel inclined to use multiple question marks or combine this punctuation with an exclamation point to add emphasis to a sentence. Doing so is grammatically incorrect, not to mention can be construed as lazy and even rude. A little writing effort will get the message across properly.
Can you believe that Joe lives in Orlando and never visited Disney World?!?!
Did you know that Joe lives in Orlando and never visited Disney World? That’s unbelievable!
One might get away with multiple punctuation marks on the informal platforms of texting and emailing but remember that misused punctuations might be taken as insulting, even condescending.
I’m downstairs!!!!! Are you ready?????
As you can read, using one punctuation mark at a time is a gentler, kinder way to send a message. The world would be a better place with less meanness and fewer multiple punctuations.