1. essential life
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    essential life Member

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    Do you need a question mark with sarcasm?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by essential life, Feb 11, 2010.

    The person speaking the following dialogue knows that the subject is not a genius, so he/she is not really asking a question. Which is correct?

    1. "Yeah, he's a real genius, isn't he?"

    OR

    2. "Yeah, he's a real genius, isn't he."
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    There's no reason that would be a question in that case. Sarcasm is evident in the tone and subtext, not in the punctuation.
     
  3. Evil Flamingo
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    Evil Flamingo Contributing Member Contributor

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    No question mark
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's still a question...
     
  5. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I've seen it done both ways. If I couldn't avoid the rhetorical question (by just leaving out the "isn't he" or some other wording), I'd probably use a question mark myself, but I've seen it done both ways. I don't think it's incorrect to use the punctuation that feels right to you. Of course, neither choice of punctuation illustrates the sarcasm. I'm sure you've done that by showing through gestures or discussion where this comment comes from (or goes from here).

    PS: from Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style: "A question mark follows every question that expects an answer." (It doesn't elaborate on rhetorical questions which expressly do not expect answers, and ODAUS is a pretty carefully worded resource book). I'll bet you could find a resource that indicates there are some options here.
     
  6. Mr What
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    Mr What Member

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    My lazy brain is suggesting you just cut off the "isn't he/?" and make the sarcasm more obvious and avoid the debate altogether...
     
  7. KarlaUW
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    KarlaUW New Member

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    Now see, I am by no means a professional writer or even a good writer, but I always use ? to kind of represent sarcasm in my writing.

    This is in both academic as well as personal writing. I think it makes it easier to understand.
     
  8. Nackl of Gilmed
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    Nackl of Gilmed Member

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    Dialogue is a bit of a grey area. For the most part though a sarcastic question, like a rhetorical question, is still a question. I'd say it does better with a question mark.
     
  9. Mila
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    Mila Member

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    I would just put something like: He rolled his eyes/sighed/raised an eyebrow, etc. 'Yes, he's a real genius, isn't he.'
     
  10. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure what the rule is, or whether you should follow it.

    I can also see the merits of rewording, just to avoid the issue... but that's avoiding the issue.

    I personally think the question mark would change the tone of voice.

    A writer who would want to beat you over the head with intent might say:

    "Yes, he's a real genius, isn't he." It was a statement, not a question, his voice dripping with a mountain-sized load of sarcasm.

    Now, I'm not suggesting you write it that way. Just that the period makes the voice I hear in my head give the words different inflection, that of a statement and not a question.

    With a question mark, I think the voice would get a little higher as the last two words are said.

    Without the question mark does seem, in my head, to be more likely to be sarcasm, or perhaps jealousy. Perhaps even the words of a braggart, a mother, say, bragging about her son, or a spouse bragging about her spouse, forming it as a statement.

    ("Yes, he's a real genius, isn't he." She said this smugly, confidently, seeming to speak through her nose, patting her son on the shoulder. "He was blessed with his mother's intellect.")

    We should be able to discern whether it was sarcasm or what have you from context.

    But with the question mark, I hear it as an actual question expecting an answer.

    Charlie
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry, but tacking on 'isn't he' still makes it a question, no matter how one may imagine it's being spoken...
     
  12. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    You are right.

    I never said it was not a question.

    Charlie
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i wasn't just referring to your post, charlie... the one ahead of it also had the question sans the mark...
     
  14. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Thanks, I thought it was regarding my post.

    But I'm not so sure that all questions in all circumstances require the mark. One may, in some circumstances, omit the question mark, and the sentence still be a question.

    I just googled a bit and checked out some different sites on the rhetorical question. Some authorities suggest that in some types of writing and in some contexts, certain types of questions including rhetorical questions may end with periods or exclamation points. Other authorities disagree.

    While there are various opinions about the punctuation, none said, "It is not a question." They all agree that it's still a question. Where the opinions differed is on whether it's a requirement to use the question mark in punctuating the question.

    I personally am of the view that writing, including punctuation, is more an art form than science, although certain uses of punctuation may be preferred in certain settings, and certainly, when writing for publication one may be wise to consider the preference of the editor/publisher in such matters.

    In certain types of formal nonfiction writing, one likely should not even use sarcasm or rhetorical questions, let alone ending direct questions in periods and exclamation points. But not all writing is formal nonfiction writing.

    Charlie
     
  15. Halcyon
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    Halcyon Contributing Member Contributor

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    My personal view, if you are truly trying to convey sarcasm, is that you're making a statement, not asking a question, even allowing for the presence of "isn't he".

    So, no question mark, IMO.
     
  16. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    See, the funny thing is, I think technically, the sentences we're discussing are questions, although they're intended to make a statement.

    Something popped into my head while thinking about this thread this morning:

    Riddle me this, Batman: When is a question not a question? When it's an answer or a statement.

    That's sort of how it is. Technically, a sentence may be a question when it's not intended to ask anything at all.

    On the long running TV show Jeopardy, they're instructed to give the answer in the form of a question. I could imagine a comedian playing with that. Wait a second. Is it a question? Then it's not an answer! How can an answer be a question?

    To the matter of the punctuation, I'm more flexible. I think it depends on a number of factors.

    But as to whether it's a question, I think it comes down to a semantics thing. How do you define "question"? Sometimes, we make statements in the form of a question. I think in technical form, these are questions, but they're not intended to ask anything at all, but are intended to convey information.

    Another comparison that occurred to me is that of a lawyer questioning a witness on the witness stand. Lawyers are required only to ask questions of witnesses, but they've been known to make statements in the form of a question. This often leads to objections. "The lawyer is leading the witness." "The lawyer is testifying." "That was not a question." Though of course, that generally has nothing to do with sarcasm, so I'm now digressing a bit...

    Charlie
     
  17. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    For it to be grammatically correct, it would have to be a question mark. To indicate sarcasm, attach a tag such as, "He said, his tone drenched with sarcasm." But if he or she is EXTREMELY deadpan or monotone, a period would be acceptable.
     
  18. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Grammatical correctness also precludes using sentence fragments, but they're used all the time in fiction.

    I think he should write it the way he thinks it looks best. If a publisher or editor likes the work but wants it changed to a question mark, the publisher or editor will say as much.

    From my google search yesterday, there seems to be no clear consensus on whether the question mark is required in such a circumstance.

    Charlie
     
  19. Trickatel
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    Trickatel New Member

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    You could always (if writing in third person) write 'He joked' or 'He smirked' after the speech, like some people have said. I personally wouldn't put the 'isn't he' at the end, it doesn't really fit in place.
     
  20. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Technically, no. It's an interrogative. "Question" is the function, "interrogative" is the grammatical structure (Describing the grammar of speech and writing, Edited by K. A. O’Halloran and C. Coffin, 2005, p85).

    Just as you'd put a question mark on "You've done your homework?" if it's a question (despite the structure being declarative), I'd suggest that you don't put a question mark on a non-question, even if the structure is interrogative.
     
  21. Eternity
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    Eternity Member

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    Naaahh... I don't think there's any concrete rule for this one. Personally? I prefer the no question mark.
     
  22. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    But nothing is being asked, regardless of the wording.
     
  23. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry, but that seems silly to me... if a sentence is worded as a question, then something is definitely being asked, whether the person saying it want/expects an answer, or not...
     
  24. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    And if something is worded as a statement then nothing is being asked?
     
  25. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You punctuate as it is worded. You don't punctuate subtext.
     

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