Which punctuation mark to use in a sentence that contains a description (needs colon) and a question (needs question mark)?


How would you act in a situation like this one: you are trapped in a cage with a bear.

If I absolutely want to build my sentence using this structure (using a colon before the description) where should I put a question mark?

  • I recommend "use a comma instead", like this, How would you act in a situation like this one, "You are trapped in a cage with a bear"? But if absolutely want to use colon, I imagine that you can replace that comma with a colon, but I'm not absolutely sure. Also note that it looks odd since it's not a quotation per se. – Damkerng T. Nov 28 '13 at 6:49
  • My question targets descriptions, but quotations are also relevant. Example: Have you read the part where Hamlet asks this famous question: "To be or not to be?"? – Limbo Exile Nov 28 '13 at 6:59
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    I would say that most styles will recommend to drop one question mark, but to say which one depends entirely on which style guide you use. (I myself will drop the inner one.) – Damkerng T. Nov 28 '13 at 7:04
  • That was probably a bad example as it added unnecessary complexity to my question by doubling question marks. My question is about colon-question mark situation, not double question mark situation. Here is an improved example: Have you heard about this famous philosophy of Descartes: "I think, therefore I am". – Limbo Exile Nov 28 '13 at 7:11
  • @StoneyB, the use of em-dash makes perfect sense! Before I saw your comment, I was almost about to suggest the OP to use italic font instead of quotation marks. – Damkerng T. Nov 28 '13 at 7:26

Follow the intonation.

How would you act in a situation like this one? —you are trapped in a cage with a bear.

Are you familiar with Lenin’s famous question? —What Is to Be Done?

The Hamlet quotation, however, has no question mark (if your text has one, it’s been wrongheadedly inserted by an editor), so that works like the first one:

Are you familiar with Hamlet's famous question? —‘To be or not to be.’

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The fix is simple – remove the "this one", and turn the statement into a bona fide question:

How would you act in a situation where you are, say, trapped in a cage with a bear?

By the way, I'd pray that the bear wasn't hungry...

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  • +1 for a nice trick, and a sympathy to the man who trapped with the bear. :) – Damkerng T. Nov 28 '13 at 14:38

If you absolutely want to build your sentence using the structure, I'd write:

How would you act in a situation like this one: "You are trapped in a cage with a bear"?

However, that didn't really make sense to me. So try:

How would you act: "You are trapped in a cage with a bear"?

Edit: After further research I found that the question mark is supposed to be placed outside the quotes. This is because the whole sentence is a question (including the first passage).

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