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  • I can climb to the top of that tree. How you ask? Well, like this.

  • I can climb to the top of that tree. How, you ask? Well, like this.

  • I can climb to the top of that tree. "How", you ask? Well, like this.

Here, the highlighted part, the question hasn't been asked by the listener, and doesn't require a response. What i'm concerned about is the punctuation that go/goes into that.

4 Answers 4

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How, you ask?

is a simple inversion of

You ask how?

which is a shortened version of

You ask how I can climb to the top of that tree?

So your second version is correct: "How, you ask?"

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To go to the crazy extreme, we can say that the "correctest" way is:

"How?" you ask?

or:

You ask "How?"?

Of course, it is too complicated and ugly and it is never used.


A good compromise would be:

"How", you ask?

but it still includes direct speech in direct speech, although not so ugly as before.


To maximize efficiency, the following seems to be best:

How, you ask?


The form:

How you ask?

(without comma) inquires (ungrammatically) about the method / way of asking. Therefore, some possible answers are:

With my mouth. (Verbally.)

Carefully.

In written form.

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The correct form would be either:

"How?", you ask?

or:

How, you ask?

"How" here may not be intended to be an exact quote, in which case quotation marks would not be correct. That is, if you write,

Bob said, "This is due on Tuesday".

The quote marks indicate that those are Bob's exact words. Or at least, close enough to his exact words that you are justified in saying it's a quote.

But if you write:

Bob said this is due on Tuesday.

Now you are not claiming to report Bob's exact words, but are attempting to convey the sense of what he said. If Bob's exact words were, "The project must be completed within six days from today", and today is Wednesday, then this statement would be true, even if you aren't giving his exact words.

So if we're supposing that the person would actually ask, "How?", and that's what you're trying to convey, then you should put "How" in quotes. If you're supposing the person might ask with that general idea in mind but you don't want to assume exact words, like they might ask, "How?", they might ask, "How will you do that?", they might ask, "In what manner will you accomplish that?", etc etc, then it's not an exact quote.

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The sentence isn't actually a question so it shouldn't end in a question mark. It is reporting a question, so I would punctuate it.

"How?" you ask.

I understand this to be a shortened version of

"How do you climb to the top of that tree?" you ask.

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  • I still think this is the right answer.
    – James K
    Oct 29, 2021 at 3:04

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