question mark


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?
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   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. . 2013.