Question Mark and Quotation Marks – Usage & Examples

A common question in my class concerns where end marks belong when used with a quotation: to the inside or outside of the end quotation mark?

The correct answer is both, depending on how the quotation marks are used. It all depends on whether you are quoting a question or asking a question about a quote.

Let’s take a closer look at the roles quotation marks and question marks play in the English language and how you can use them to create clear and concise writing.

What are Question Marks Used For?

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Question marks are the terminal punctuation mark required for interrogative sentences. Interrogative sentences ask a question or request more information. It is structured with an adverb or auxiliary verb followed by the subject and punctuated with a question mark.

For example:

  • Would you please be so kind as to take out the trash on your way out the door?

You can also convert a declarative or imperative sentence into a question by providing a question tag.

For example:

  • He didn’t turn in his essay, did he?

Usage of Quotation Marks

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Double quotation marks are used to signify dialog and indicate the use of somebody else’s words and work to support an argument as a source of evidence. The various uses of quotes help determine the type of punctuation you use with it.

Direct Quotes

Direct quotations represent the exact words used in a text, speech, or thought. Quotations are required when you integrate direct quotes into your own work in order to provide a reference to where they originated from.

For example:

  • “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” -Nelson Mandela.
  • The famous activist, Nelson Mandela, often spoke on his own approaches to perseverance, sharing his mantra, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

Indirect Quotes

Indirect quotes do not require quotation marks since they generally provide a summarizing or paraphrasing of the material. They refer to somebody else’s words and require a citation in the text but not quotations.

For example:

  • Nelson Mandela attributed much of his success to never accepting failure and always rising when he fell.

Does a Question Mark Belong Inside or Outside the Quotation Marks?

Depending on how you use a quote determines where you place the question mark. Punctuation is determined by whether the quote already includes a quotation mark or if the quote is being integrated into a sentence.

When a Question Mark Belongs Inside Quotation Marks

Question marks belong INSIDE quotation marks when the direct quote is an interrogative sentence.

For example:

  • The students looked around the room, noticing the brave student who raised their hand, asking, “What, exactly, are we supposed to be doing?”
  • “Are you positive we need to be here?” Jonathan asked the instructor.

On the rare occasion, you have a quoted question placed within an interrogative sentence, place the quotation mark INSIDE the quotation mark.

For example:

  • Did the teacher actually ask him, “Why are you here?”

When a Question Mark Belongs Outside Quotation Marks

The placement of question marks belongs OUTSIDE quotation marks when the quote is integrated into an entire sentence.

  • Are you sure you were accurate when you said we “absolutely needed this training”?
  • Did he actually tell the teacher “the material didn’t matter” to her face?

Let’s Review

Question marks are often used with quotation marks, and knowing where to place the end mark is important to the clarity of your writing. Question marks belong inside the quotation marks when the direct quote is a question or when an interrogative sentence integrates a quoted question.

Question marks belong outside quotation marks when an interrogative sentence integrates a quote that is not a question itself.

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