- 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 happy event that it had raised an exclamation mark over the proceedings or that negotiations that had been suspended had a comma hanging over them?***The question mark comes at the end of a question. That sounds simple enough, doesn't it? But its astonishing how frequently writers fail to include it. Two random examples:" 1 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."
Dictionary of troublesome word. Bill Bryson. 2013.