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Question mark

Welcome to this quick and simple guide to the use of question marks in the English language. Here we will look at the definition of a question mark, explain what it’s used for, and examine the grammar rules surrounding it. We will also look at how question marks are used in other languages and scripts.

What is a question mark?

A question mark is defined as a punctuation mark at the end of a sentence that shows a question is being asked. It can sometimes be referred to as an interrogation point. An old-fashioned and now obsolete term for a question mark is an ‘eroteme’.

A question mark is primarily used in two ways.

  1. To denote a direct interrogatory statement. A direct interrogatory statement will usually (but by no means always) begin with the words who, where, why, how, when, which, would and what.
  • What day is it?
  • Why are you crying?
  • Where do you live?
  • Which one do you like best?

A direct interrogatory statement can also begin with variations of the verb ‘to be’, such as ‘is’ or ‘are’

  •  Is he coming to the party?
  • Are you going to school today?
  1. To express doubt or seek to clarify a fact.
  •  Do you think that’s a good idea?
  • Can you explain that to me?
  • Could you tell me a bit more about that?

If writing for a website, the HTML code for a question mark is &#63

The HTML number for an inverted question mark is &#191

The term ‘question mark’ itself can also be used when referring to something that is doubtful or unknown.

There was a question mark over which players would be chosen for the squad.

 A question mark still hung over his ability to do the job well.

Question marks and other punctuation

A question mark includes a full stop, so always signifies the end of a sentence/the end of the question. A question mark is never followed by a full stop, comma, colon, semi-colon or hyphen but always by the beginning of a new sentence or paragraph.

What day is it?

Not: What day is it?, is it Tuesday?

This should be broken up into two sentences:

What day is it? Is it Tuesday?

The only other punctuation marks that can follow a question mark are inverted commas.

“How are you today?” he asked

Not: “How are you today?,” he asked.

The comma is not necessary here as the question mark already contains a full stop.

In casual/informal writing, say a text message, email, instant message, status update or similar to a friend or family member, here are some ways you can use question marks.

Using quotation marks with question marks

The only punctuation marks that can follow a question mark are inverted commas. Inverted commas are used in two ways:

1. To show that someone is talking

“How are you today?” he asked

Not: “How are you today?,” he asked.

The question mark already contains a full stop, meaning it does not have to be followed by any other punctuation mark, such as a comma, hyphen, semi-colon or colon. Simply close the question that is being asked with inverted commas.

2. To quote directly from another piece of text.

Do you agree with the phrase “live and let live”?

Have you heard the song “My Way”?

Here the question marks comes after the quotation marks, as the questions are outside the quotations.

Multiple question marks

Multiple (often double) question marks are used to demand a correct or true response, or to denote complete disbelief or incredulity at a statement. While they strengthen your question, they also imply you don’t believe what the person has just told you, or that you are getting impatient with that person.


  • Are you sure you’re telling the truth??
  • Is there any chance you could get back to me by tomorrow??
  • WTF???

Question marks with exclamation marks

Question marks can be used in conjunction with exclamation marks/exclamation points too, to convey disbelief, amusement, surprise or annoyance.


  • Did you win the lottery?!
  • What time do you call this?!
  • Did you finish the milk?!

Question marks in brackets

Question marks can be used in brackets to show that the question is rhetorical, ie one that doesn’t necessarily demand or require a reply. It also conveys that the writer is unsure of a statement.


Shall we meet for a picnic this weekend, I’ve heard the weather is meant to be lovely (?)

I will post that present to you, I’m sure I still have your address (?)

It’s important to note that the usages of the question mark in the three above examples are generally considered bad practice if used in any writing other than something completely informal. They should never be used in an important email to a colleague or employer, and it is better to find other ways emphasise your point.

For example, compare the three following sentences:

Do I have to finish this report by the end of today?

This is fine, a straightforward question.

Do I have to finish this report by the end of today??

The second question mark here is unnecessary. It conveys disbelief and impatience.

Do I have to finish this report by the end of today?!

This conveys annoyance and petulance, and is definitely not an appropriate tone to take with a work colleague or boss.

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