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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Yikes! To Question Mark or Not to Question Mark, That Is the Question


Jozette Aaron
says, "I am going to purchase your book My book is too far away from the presses to announce it as yet...and I may change the title.

I have a question. I was given some editing advice that I do not agree with. I was told that when a question appears between quotation marks, the question mark should not be used that a comma is used in its place. e.g "How did that happen,"

This doesn't look right to me so I thought I'd ask my guru. I was given this advice by the person I was considering when self publishing.

Thanks for your help.


Jozette. I picked this tip up from Stephen King's On Writing as I was writing my book, The Frugal Editor. The rule is that if you use "he asked" as a dialogue tag after you put a question in quotation marks, you don't need the question mark because it would be redundant. Like showing your reader twice that it is a question.

If you use the question mark at the end of your question, simply use "he said" for your dialogue tag. Or if understanding supports no use of a tag at all, then you'd use only the question mark.

So here are the choices:

"How did that happen," he asked.
Or "How did that happen?"
Or "How did that happen?" he said.

Good for you for asking. We never stop learning more about writing and the more we know, the more the learning horizon seems to expand. (-:
Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits and consults on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success on Amazon. Learn more about her other authors' aids at


Jozette said...

Thanks Carolyn,

This has truly cleared me of the question mark woes.

Your site is a field of motivation to get me writing better and more. I love the writing/editing/marketing advice and tips you share and will be a constant gardener!

Thanks for all you do.

Jozette Aaron
The Authors Desk

Michele said...

Hi, Carolyn! I understand what you said about redundancy: ("Why shouldn't I have a question mark here?" she asked.)

BUT -- not including a question mark in the dialog, when the term "asked" is part of the thought -- this not only is jarring to my eyes,it is discordant in my brain.

Punctuation helps the reader understand what kind of sentence she's reading: a statement, question, inner thought, etc. If the dialog tag isn't consistent with the dialog, I can read one meaning, then be pulled away from the story, instead of along with it.

My mind reads a question differently than it does a statement. (Where's the inflection if there's no question mark?)

I wouldn't arm-wrestle you about: 'Where's the inflection, she wondered to herself' -- I don't know what rule of punctuation applies, or why. Neither a "?" nor a "." looks/feels/sounds right. . .

My friend, you do an awesome job with all of this. Thanks for all your efforts.

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