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Direct and indirect questions: when to use a question mark

Posted by Wendy Wood on 15th February , 2022 in Grammar
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Have you ever noticed that the question mark has but one job to do? They’re used only to communicate that a sentence is a direct question, as in the previous sentence or in the following sentences:

  • When did she arrive?
  • What time is it?
  • Does she know the answer?

Pretty simple stuff, right? (Another direct question.) The trouble comes, however, when you throw in indirect questions. You begin to ask yourself if you need a question mark.

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) says an indirect question never takes a question mark. But what exactly is an indirect question? The Cambridge Dictionary defines an indirect question as “a question that is reported to other people in speech or writing, rather than the exact words of the original question”.

What does that mean in practice? Let’s take a look at a few sentences written as both direct and indirect questions.

Direct: “What is wrong?” he asked.
Indirect: He asked what is wrong.

Direct: “Did you see that car go past?” he asked.
Indirect: He asked if we saw the car go past.

Direct: “Is it worth the risk?” he wondered.
Indirect: He wondered if it was worth the risk.

Wendy Wood


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