Quite commonly used, the rules regarding question marks are very little and very easy to use.
Uses of Question Marks
Question marks are used to punctuate and end interrogative sentences. Direct questions are commonly introduced with who, what, when, where or why. However, every question isn’t framed as a direct question. Sometimes, declarative or imperative sentences can be framed as a question by adding a question mark to signify surprise, doubt, or disbelief.
Example: I’m sorry, who are you?
You want to drop out of school and become a comedian?
Question Marks with Quotation Marks
While placing a question mark at the end of an interrogative sentence is simple enough, it can get confusing when it is placed near other punctuations.
If the question mark belongs only to a phrase inside quotation marks, it should be placed inside the quotations. If the question mark pertains to the whole sentence, place it at the end of the sentence.
Example: Ben asked, “what are you doing?”
Don’t you want to finish studying “from your notes”?
If a quoted phrase contains a question and the whole sentence is also a question, place the question mark at the end of the sentence. The same holds true if a quotation containing a question. If there is a quoted phrase inside an interrogative sentence, use only one question mark.
Example: She blankly stated, “the CEO yelled at him for ‘doing a poor job’ on the project.”
“Why did you ‘do a poor job’ on this important project”?
Question Marks and Parentheses
Similar to the rules regarding quotation marks, place the question mark at the end of the sentence if the whole sentence is interrogative in nature. However, if only the parenthetical phrase is a question, place the question mark within parentheses.
Example: How did Ben climb the wall (without getting hurt)?
I heard that Ben climbed a wall (and didn’t get hurt?).
Question Marks for Indirect Questions
One type of question that shouldn’t end in a question mark is an indirect question. Placed within declarative sentences, it can be hard to decide if a sentence is an indirect question or a direct question. However, in such situations, it’s acceptable to treat it as an indirect question.
Example: Ben wondered which wall he should try to climb.
Everyone pondered why Ben was so interested in climbing a wall.
More Than a Question Mark
There are times when a simple question mark just doesn’t seem to be enough. Especially for questions with an undertone of surprise and excitement, it is common to see the use of interrobangs. A mix of question marks and exclamation points, interrobangs should only be used in informal or casual writing. When writing, if you want to inject enthusiasm into a question without using interrobangs, rewrite the question to avoid its use.
Example: Did you know? Ben successfully climbed that wall and won the competition!
Ben successfully climbed that wall and won the competition!?