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question mark

The main purpose of the question mark is to indicate the end of a direct question, sometimes even if the sentence is declarative or imperative in form:

  • Doctor Livingstone, I presume?
  • Surely not?
  • Give him more time? Don’t make me laugh.
  • I don’t suppose you’d have another one in the same colour?

A question mark may be used for each query within a sentence:

  • Managers must ask themselves: How will this proposal affect cost?
    productivity? employee satisfaction?

Requests and indirect questions

Opinions differ as to whether a polite request of the type May I …, Would you … or Will you … requires the question mark. However, a question mark will look out of place after longer requests of this kind, especially if the sentence embodies straightforward affirmative elements:

  • May I escort you to your car?
  • Will you come this way, please.
  • Will you please go—before I have you thrown out.

Although the question mark is normally omitted after indirect questions, one may be added if the sentence has the force of a request:

  • I wonder if you could give me two dollars for the bus ride home?

Exclamatory elements

Occasionally a question will incorporate an exclamatory element. The writer must then decide whether the interrogative or the exclamatory element is to be given greater prominence:

  • What hath God wrought!
  • How many times must I tell you?

Uncertain or missing information

A question mark in parentheses (italicized in square brackets in quoted material) is inserted after information about which the writer is uncertain:

  • The explorer William Kennedy, a strong advocate of the annexation of Rupert’s Land to Canada, was born at Cumberland House (?), Rupert’s Land, on April 26, 1814.

Indicate missing digits with a question mark:

  • Henri Potvin (1615–165?)