Example 1:

  • Option A: A question mark is used only at the end of a sentence.
  • Option B: The question mark is used only at the end of a sentence.

Example 2:

  • Option A: A ? character is used only at the end of a sentence.
  • Option B: The ? character is used only at the end of a sentence.

Which sentences are correct, A or B? It seems that in most cases people use the indefinite article in such sentences, but from my point of view "?" exists in a single instance; we just refer to this instance here and there.

  • 1
    Option C: Question marks are used only at the end of sentences. – FumbleFingers Jan 21 at 14:27
  • 1
    A followed by The is the common thing in English. A dog is a wondrous animal. The dog on my lawn is one. That is the pattern for a generalitty followed by a specific instance of the thing. – Lambie Jan 21 at 15:08
  • 1
    @Lambie - Unless the thing is widely known to be unique. For example, we say "The sun rises in the east," not, "A sun rises in an east." Which article we use with "question mark" depends on whether we're thinking it of one example of many question marks, or the unique '?' character. – Canadian Yankee Jan 21 at 16:55
  • 1
    @CanadianYankee Please don't bother teaching me English. An apple is day is good thing to eat. An apple. The apple on the table is mine. And this is the most usual difficulty for Slavic language speakers. That is the practical thing most of them need to learn. Thank you. – Lambie Jan 22 at 18:10

All three versions occur...

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...and for the exact context as specified1, it doesn't really make any difference which you choose. They all mean the same, they're about equally common, and they're all the same "register" (none are particularly more or less "formal / literary / colloquial / whatever" than any others).

1 I can't see it makes any difference whether we're talking about question marks, hash characters, or hyphens (or indeed any punctuation marks) here.

  • 1
    A followed by The is very common in English. These things don't exist in a vacuum.... – Lambie Jan 21 at 15:11
  • 1
    True, but by default NGrams is case-sensitive, so all three search strings represent the start of sentences. And I see no reason to suppose I'd choose the a version just because I wanted to go on and make some further assertion about the specific contextually relevant punctuation mark that somehow confirms or refutes my earlier "generic" statement. – FumbleFingers Jan 21 at 15:24

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