Is the question mark needed at the end of indirect questions?


When I asked an earlier question I wasn't sure whether to put a question mark at the end of the following sentence, which is, obviously, a question, even if it is not written in interrogative form:

Since I suppose both are grammatical, I wonder which one, "A" or "B", sounds more natural English?

The question is: is ending that sentence with a question mark obligatory?


Posted 2013-03-03T13:51:03.003


After reviewing the discussion with Bill Franke I have come to the conclusion that his answer is more appropriate to the audience here, and my own entirely inappropriate. Could I trouble to you unAccept my answer so I may delete it? – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-03-04T17:59:24.563




StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2013-03-03T13:51:03.003

Reputation: 176 469

But see Nunberg's The Linguistics of Punctuation for an alternate explanation of what exactly punctuation is. – snailplane – 2013-03-03T15:41:48.967

1@snailplane I am in fact very sympathetic to Nunberg's point of view, and I will fiercely defend the status of the written language as a distinct dialect. Nunberg is quite right to reject the notion of punctuation as 'transcription' of oral phenomena. But I think punctuation is properly seen as analogous not to prosodic linguistic components of speech, which remain 'subtextual' in the written dialects, but to the non-linguistic gestures which accompany speech. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-03-03T16:26:42.657


The question mark is incorrect because the sentence is an indirect question and not a direct question. Neither of the other answers provides any authoritative source that recommends using or not using a "?" for sentences such as these, but here's what one trustworthy web page says (and I agree):

"Be careful not to put a question mark at the end of an indirect question. [My emphasis.]

The instructor asked the students what they were doing.
I asked my sister if she had a date.
I wonder if Cheney will run for vice president again.
I wonder whether Cheney will run again.

Be careful to distinguish between an indirect question (above), and a question that is embedded within a statement which we do want to end with a question mark.

We can get to Boston quicker, can't we, if we take the interstate?
His question was, can we end this statement with a question mark?
She ended her remarks with a resounding why not?
I wonder: will Cheney run for office again?


Posted 2013-03-03T13:51:03.003


But I think OP's example corresponds to your last example (only without the colon) "I wonder: which sounds more natural?" – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-03-03T16:48:37.443

@Stoney: The colon makes all the difference. After the colon comes an independent clause. Without the colon, it's merely an indirect question. It may look like a direct question because it's a relative clause with a WH-word head, which is, of course, question word order. Don't be fooled by that coincidence, however. I'd say that "Which one sounds more natural, 'A' or 'B'?" sounds more like a natural English question than the syntax in the OP's sentence does. But that's just me. – None – 2013-03-03T17:20:47.767

@Stoney Fersher the colon helps, too; but the colon doesn't make it an independent clause, the colon just marks it as an independent clause and makes it obvious that it's a question. Outside of Renaissance critical theory, wonder means raise a question. What we've got here is more a philosophical question than a linguistic one: if a question is raised in a forest with nobody to hear it is it really a question? – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-03-03T17:38:41.893

1@Stoney: Indirect questions are semantically questions, yes, because they invite answers. Eg: (A) I wonder what his name is. (B) Joe. But grammatically (syntactically) it's not a question, so it doesn't take "?". (A) "I wonder what his name is"? Is that what you said?. (B) Yes. In this case it's a question, but not the same kind. Tag Qs that are allegations aren't semantically Qs, but they're grammatically Qs & take the "?", eg: "You murderer! You killed him, didn't you? [NB: Falling intonation, not rising Q intonation] I know you did!" – None – 2013-03-04T00:34:02.377

Well, I myself cheat. I write I wonder, Which one, "A" or "B", sounds more natural? It's a practice I stole from Bernard Shaw - if not exactly a trump card, at least a wild card. The Joker. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-03-04T00:40:14.547

@Stoney: More evidence that native speakers will write & say anything. But don't forget that when I talk about writing, I'm talking about formal expository prose, the kind that is acceptable on standardized international tests like the TEOFL, IELTS, SAT, GRE, LSAT, etc. And then, of course, there's Finnegans Wake. Great writers make their own rules & break everybody else's without compunction. The rest of are wary. – None – 2013-03-04T01:16:18.160

You are quite right to remind me of our audience. I will delete my answer and retreat to an hermitage to do penance by contemplating the works of the Great Irishmen who have taught us how to use our language. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-03-04T17:57:46.983

I think this is extreme, and I disagree. At least *some* of these instances of I wonder if you would... are actually statements intended to serve as questions, in which case I think it's quite proper they should use a terminating question mark. And I think the same logic applies to OP's instance. If he makes the "statement" intending that it be perceived as a question seeking an answer from the addressee, it should be ?-terminated. If he's simply reporting that he wonders, it shouldn't.

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-03-05T04:59:09.070

2@Fu: What you say is perfectly fine for informal writing: anything is. I don't like having to add "?" to tag Qs that I intend as statements (falling intonation) instead of real Qs, but on a formal English test, I have to to pass. StoneyB recognized that the audience here is EFL students. They aren't interested in our personal prejudices (& we have myriad) but in what's "correct" English. Test English is the only kind that must be judged correct/incorrect. Everyday English is another story. Please recognize the difference & don't confuse the EFL students: rants help no one but the ranter. – None – 2013-03-05T06:01:15.140