1. MarcT
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    MarcT Member

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    Question marks within a sentence?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by MarcT, Sep 14, 2016.

    I've seen conflicting views on this question.
    This sentence for example:

    “My people can have assets in place for the middle of March. That’s what? about eight weeks away by my reckoning.”

    Some say the word after the question mark should start with a capital and others say no.
    I have another example where the character is thinking to herself:

    What harm was there in playing a little? she asked herself.

    If I change the first example and put a capital on about, it sort of interrupts the flow.
    Thoughts?

     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Not something I would personally do. This feels a little like a borrow from Spanish orthography where you can place the beginning question mark mid-sentence, at the point where the question actually starts. I would either start the word after the question mark as a majuscule, else forego the question mark altogether, replacing it with just a comma, since in this case it's rather rhetorical.

    This one is fine as is. Treat it as one treats dialogue that possesses quotation marks.

    "What harm was there in playing a little?" she asked.
     
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  3. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    @Wreybies

    Your example... seriously? I can honestly say I've never noticed a question mark in the middle of a sentence before, although there have been times putting a question mark at the end of the sentence has felt like closing the stable door after the horse has already bolted. So doing it like this is acceptable? I think I'd still rather jiggle things about. Good to know though.
     
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  4. MarcT
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    MarcT Member

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    That’s what, about eight weeks away by my reckoning.
    Looks better that way.
    The question mark does look out of place in this example, you're right.
     
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  5. MarcT
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    MarcT Member

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    I've seen it recently in a Tim Green book so I'll see if I can dig it out. It may take a while...........
     
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  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I have to agree that it would be my instinct to flip the sentence around so that there was less of a visual conflict:

    She asked herself, what harm was there in playing a little?

    But in giving that answer I side-skirt the original question of what to do when it absotively, posolutely has to go in the middle. :) The second example is also a different situation to the first. In the first one, I would either create two complete sentences or replace that question mark with a comma.


    The important thing to remember is that speech marks do not "outrank" other punctuation. This is why a comma is used in an example like:

    "I'm absolutely sure I turned off the stove before leaving the house," said Richard.

    It's a comma, and not a full stop, because that whole thing is a single sentence, not a sentence of dialogue with a tag being worn as an accessory. All the speech marks do is tell us what part of that sentence is spoken aloud. ​

    I'm absolutely sure I turned off the stove before leaving the house, said Richard.

    When we remove the speech marks, though it looks strange, we see the true structure of the sentence. The said Richard bit is just a dependent clause, like countless other dependent clauses. We can easily turn this into inner thought by just changing the verb:​

    I'm absolutely sure I turned off the stove before leaving the house, thought Richard.

    And if the bit being thought is a question, then we use a question mark just as we would if it were being said aloud because, again, the speech marks are subordinate in rank to the other punctuation, they don't get to order the rest of the marks around. ​

    Did I turn off the stove before leaving the house? wondered Richard.

    also....

    Did I turn off the stove before leaving the house? wondered Richard.

    The above two for the same reason that gives us...

    "Did I turn off the stove before leaving the house?" asked Richard.
     
  7. MarcT
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    MarcT Member

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    I think it loses the conversational flow that way.
    Hmm, what harm was there in playing a little, anyway? she asked herself.
     
  8. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Thanks Wreybies. Clear as crystal now. ;)

    I totally agree. I think it's because the question mark provides a terminal pause rather than the brief respite of a comma. Makes it feel clunky to my ear. Visually, it looks horrible too. I have enough problems keeping my OCD in check without littering punctuation. (I mean, putting a full stop before quotation marks— I know I shouldn't but doing it but the Brit way just looks so damned untidy. :))
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2016
  9. Shnette
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    Just to be a rebel with a grammatical cause, I will happily put a question mark mid-sentence anytime that I like. But the question has to be a clear question. I understand your pause by saying "That's what?..." but it's just not a clear question so in that sentence I wouldn't use ? in the middle.
     
  10. vermissage
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    I've seen it done, I'd do it myself, and if someone tells me I can't, I'd nod 'You're right,' and go ahead do it anyway.
     

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