Question Mark Grammar & Punctuation Rules

Punctuation marks are your friends because they make your writing clearer and more precise. Question marks, unsurprisingly, are a piece of punctuation used to end questions. Keep reading to learn what a question mark is, how to use it, and how to type the symbol!

What is a Question Mark For?

The question mark is a punctuation used at the end of each direct question. Interrogative statements should end with this punctuation mark–for example:

  • When are you getting a new car?
  • Do you support my advocacy?

The statements above are an example of an interrogative sentence. Unlike a declarative sentence, it asks a question or expresses uncertainty. Meanwhile, a declarative statement provides a fact, explanation, or opinion. 

The earliest question mark used dates to the Egyptians who designed the curve of the punctuation symbol. The curve was inspired by the cats they worshipped. 

Another possible history comes from Middle Age scholars who wrote “questio” at the end of their formal writing when asking. Later on, it was shortened to “qo,” then the “q” went on top of the “o.”

In A History of Writing, Steven Roger Fischer stated that Latin manuscripts first included the modern question mark. However, it only appeared in the English language in 1587.

This form of punctuation is the “least demanding.” As long as you know what an interrogative statement is, you know how to use this simple punctuation mark. 

How to Use a Question Mark

According to the Merriam-Webster punctuation guide, the question mark is a piece of punctuation that indicates doubt or question. The question mark usage should always be at the end of a direct question since it’s a terminal punctuation mark–for example:

  • How do you use an Arabic question mark?

An indirect question is also a type of interrogative statement. But you should not use a terminal question mark for this type of writing–for example:

  • I wonder how you use an Arabic question mark.

One-word questions should often be treated as indirect questions. Therefore, the straightforward question below should use a period.

  • I wonder why.

There is no question mark function in requests statements because they are not true questions. It should end with a period because it is not a question sentence–for example:

  • Would you please give this gift to Tanya.

The same is true for a rhetorical question. This statement, for example, takes a different punctuation:

  • Will you ever stop looking for food!

However, you might find the rhetorical question mark in screenplays to indicate sarcasm. It lets the actor know the proper tone. 

Question marks also signal uncertainty. Use it for editorial uncertainty with the help of parentheses and brackets–for example:

  • The author states that Mila’s son was born in 1965 [1963?] in Whitefish, Montana.

One of the most essential rules about question marks is, you should use multiple question marks for multiple questions–for example:

  • Where is my bucket hat? In the drawer? Closet? Rack? 

Additional question marks or combinations of question marks and exclamation points are incorrect. But you might see them in some informal and modern writing pieces–for example:

  • What are you doing in my house?!

Direct questions can occur within larger sentences. Use a question mark and a comma for understandability–for example:

  • The key question, What is the leading political cause of war? was answered by Joel. 

How Do I Type a Question Mark Symbol?

You can type the question mark character on your PC and Mac Keyboard by holding down “shift” and pressing the “?”. The question mark is usually right above the forward-slash key.

You’ll see a white question mark on your Emoji keyboard if you’re an Apple user. Apple states that its function is to express quick questions with “weak emotions.”

When a Question Mark Isn’t Enough

Question marks are functional and easy to use. Sometimes, it’s tempting to add extra punctuation when you’re texting someone or doing casual writing–for example:

  • Have you read Trina’s latest post??? Can you believe what her best friend did‽

The punctuation mark at the end is an interrobang, which is a mix of an exclamation point and question mark. This style of writing is only acceptable in informal contexts. But in formal writing, a direct question mark is enough. 

You might have also come across the irony punctuation (⸮), which is not for a type of question. Instead, this mirrored question mark denotes sarcasm or irony. This symbol is the same as the Arabic question mark. 

Another question mark type is the inverted question mark or inverted opening question mark (¿). You’ll find these marks in Latin American Spanish and other languages of Spain.

The Greek question mark looks like a semicolon (;). Lastly, an Armenian question requires an open circle over the last vowel of the word. 

How Do You Use a Question Mark in a Sentence?

Thirteen hours into the first day of Jackson’s hearing last month, the Tennessee Republican tossed out the question: “Can you define the word ‘woman’? (Yahoo News)

The man pressed on, turning his attention to Mr. McGowan, asking: “Are you up for it Premier McGowan?” (News.com.au)

Instead, she laughed and said, “How the heck am I going to get down?” This showed her ability to engage others with humor and humility. (CNBC)

Another telling moment comes up when Nicola asks when was the last time Brooklyn was jealous?’ Nicola immediately writes down ‘yesterday’ while Brooklyn answers ‘one hour ago!’ (Daily Mail)

Any More Questions?

You can learn how to use the ordinary question mark in a lightning flash! All you have to do is know what a question is and what it looks like.

I hope this overview of question mark usage helped you improve your grammar & writing. Use it at the end of your direct questions without combining it with other punctuation marks.