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This question ended with ?"? and I think it is a punctuation error, if it is incorrect is there a way to avoid using ?"??

As a psychiatrist what will you do when a patient asks a question about politics and you answer to his/her question, but now the patient tells you, "So you have a lot of mental disorders, I have to treat you first. Can I start?"?

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    In answering this, as some other questions of punctuation, there is likely to be a split between those who give the highest priority to reflecting the logical structure of what is said, and those who are more concerned with the look of the printed text.
    – jsw29
    Jun 19, 2022 at 14:28
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    Simply delete the second question mark. Jun 19, 2022 at 14:29
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    Unnest the questions - "a patient asks...now the patient tells you... "Can I start"? What will you do?
    – KillingTime
    Jun 19, 2022 at 14:32
  • @MarcInManhattan If I were going to omit either question mark (which, personally, I would not do) it would be the first. The more significant question is the one in which the direct quotation is embedded. The issue is easily avoided by using indirect instead of direct quotation.
    – BoldBen
    Jun 20, 2022 at 5:19
  • @jsw29 snaffled and databanked, ready to trot out again. A marvellously pithy appraisal. Jun 20, 2022 at 10:57

2 Answers 2

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It's okay -- it's a question within a question. Take a look at How to punctuate a quoted question within a question?

Bonus: here's one way of avoiding the nested question:

A patient asks you, their psychiatrist, a question about politics and you answer the question. But then the patient says, "So you have a lot of mental disorders, doctor, and I'll have to treat you first. Can I start?" What will you do in this situation?

Or, as Marc suggested in a comment, you could leave everything as is, and delete the final question mark.

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  • The answers posted to the linked question show, as one could have expected, that there is a split of opinion on the matter; considered all together they do not they do not give unqualified support to the claim that 'it's okay', although they do give it some support.
    – jsw29
    Jun 19, 2022 at 20:19
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This is a style guide issue

There exist a number of different style guides for writing English in a number of different domains. In America, popular style guides include the "Associated Press" or "AP" style guide, the Elements of Style by Strunk and White style guide, the "MLA" (Modern Language Association) style guide, and some others.

Of the American style guides I listed above, almost all of them agree: when a quotation is at the end of a sentence, place the punctuation inside the quotation marks and do not include any punctuation outside them.

In these styles, the correct sentence would be as follows:

As a psychiatrist what will you do when a patient asks a question about politics and you answer to his/her question, but now the patient tells you, "So you have a lot of mental disorders, I have to treat you first. Can I start?"

Or in other words, simply delete the trailing quotation mark. Alternatively, you can restructure the sentence to avoid having the the double punctuation at the end. Here's one possibility:

Let's say you answer a patient's question about politics, and the patient responds "So you have a lot of mental disorders, I have to treat you first," and "Can I start?" What will you do?

Here, there is a single question per sentence, and each sentence gets only one question mark. It may be easier to read this way.

Or, we can move the inner quote to a point earlier in the sentence, so that it isn't at the end where confusion arises. For example:

As a psychiatrist, what will you do when a patient tells you "So you have a lot of mental disorders, I have to treat you first. Can I start?" in response to your comments about politics?

Here, the two potential question marks are not back to back, which removes potential confusion.

An alternative: "Logical Punctuation"

There is one dissenting style guide which is rapidly growing in popularity recently, known as "Logical Punctuation" or sometimes "British Style". In this style, quotation marks should include all the punctuation that was in the original quote, exactly as it appeared in the original quote. The main sentence that the quotation is inside should be punctuated as normal for the sentence. This style can lead to what appears to be double punctuation, as in your example sentence.

In this style, your sentence is simply correct.

As a psychiatrist what will you do when a patient asks a question about politics and you answer to his/her question, but now the patient tells you, "So you have a lot of mental disorders, I have to treat you first. Can I start?"?

Here, there are two questions, and so there are two question marks. The first question is "...what will you do when your patient asks {THIS QUESTION}?", and the second question is "...Can I start?". Again, two questions, so two question marks, all within a single sentence.

(You may notice I'm also using the logical punctuation style right now)

This isn't wrong, it's just a different style. Of course, you should always be consistent to a single style when you write. Now, mixing between styles within a single work is confusing, and can be stated to be simply wrong.

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    British style doesn't use two question marks in that scenario, and I can't see anything on the Wikipedia page you've linked which suggests that it does (it concerns only the treatment of full stops and commas). Personally I'd either retain the one inside the quote or rephrase it so that the two questions don't end adjacently.
    – jsheeran
    Jun 20, 2022 at 15:56
  • Please click on the heading in the table of contents of the Wikipedia article link labeled “British style”. The Wikipedia page actually says “British style” is the primary name for it. Jun 20, 2022 at 22:08
  • Yes, but once again that section only concerns the treatment of full stops and commas. Per the previous section of the article, question marks are handled the same in British and American English, though it doesn't directly address the case of both the quoted and enclosing sentences ending in a question mark.
    – jsheeran
    Jun 21, 2022 at 8:01

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