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Example:

How to display the value of the bar on each bar

More examples: https://i.sstatic.net/eIAI7.png

Is adding a question mark at the end of the sentence compulsory, optional or incorrect?

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    All questions (should) end with a question mark. This conveys to readers that the sentence (or fragment in this case) should be understood as a question. That's not necessarily clear from the words alone, especially for a fragment such as you present. Dec 19, 2022 at 22:12
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    The correct way to ask your question would be "How [do I / can we / does one] display the value of the bar on each bar?
    – ColonD
    Dec 20, 2022 at 14:05
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    Are you asking how to or are you showing how to? Is this a question or a tutorial?
    – CodeAngry
    Dec 20, 2022 at 22:23
  • @CodeAngry question Dec 20, 2022 at 22:32
  • 2
    If that was the title of a document, then you would not end it with a question mark. For example, "How to Lose 30 Pounds in Ten Weeks" doesn't need a question mark. If that was a question like "How does one display the value...?" then you need a question mark.
    – John Douma
    Dec 21, 2022 at 21:51

8 Answers 8

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That is not a question, it is not even a sentence.

It is a fragment. You could use it make a statement:

I will show you [how to display the value...].

The fragment is an interrogative content clause, that functions as the second object of "show" in the example. The statement here ends with a full stop, since it isn't a question.

In headlines and title, fragments can be used. The meaning is "This document is about [how to display...]" You would not normally use any punctuation at the end of titles. For example if you a chapter about "Cats" your chapter title could be "Cats", and you would not put a question mark or a full stop. There is no requirement for title headings to be complete sentences.

If a title is actually a question then a question mark is appropriate. So if your title is "What Are Cats?" you would end with a question mark.

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    An interrogative title does usually have punctuation. Dec 19, 2022 at 19:52
  • That is true, I'll clarify.
    – James K
    Dec 19, 2022 at 20:24
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    @FranckDernoncourt "How to display the value of the bar on each bar" is not a question so no, one should never add a question mark to it.
    – Kevin
    Dec 20, 2022 at 23:15
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    @FranckDernoncourt It depends on if it's a question or not. Like another answer points out, native speakers do sometimes use "How to do x?" as a question but it's more likely to be a statement. If you meaning is,"How do I do x?" then you should use a question mark, if your meaning is "This is how you can do x." then you should use a period (for sentences) or no punctuation (for titles). Dec 21, 2022 at 14:01
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    I wonder: how many times will we have to repeat: how to x is not a question.
    – Lambie
    Dec 21, 2022 at 19:24
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How to display the value of the bar on each bar[?]

First, the answer for ELL:

Don't use "How to" when asking questions. It is considered 'incorrect', a sentence fragment, or an elision, rather than a complete sentence.

Even if, for some reason, you must use it, then if it's a question, it needs a question mark at the end. So, you might have titled this question "How to punctuate a 'how-to' question fragment?"

Without the "?", there is ambiguity: the reader doesn't know if you are asking how to do it, or explaining how to do it.

These are questions, so they have '?' appended, whereas:

...is intended as a guide, not a question, so it has a '.' at the end instead.

Even if you get it wrong, people will understand from context, but it's better to get it right in the first place, something like:

  • How am I supposed to ask a 'how' question?
  • How do you ask a 'how' question?
  • How can I ask a 'how' question?
  • How are 'how' questions asked?

Or, to rephrase the quoted question:

  • How am I meant to display the value of the bar on each bar?
  • How can I display the value of the bar on each bar?
  • How do you display the bar's value on each bar?
  • How is the value of each bar displayed on the bar?
  • How can the bars' values be displayed on each bar?

Advanced usage (as a sentence fragment):

For English Language Learners, it is best if you just do not use this format at all. You will be understood, but it will sound "weird".

What follows is more appropriate for the "English Language and Usage" Stack Exchange site, and should not be taken as guidance for learners!

I suspected that I might find this format used in a Sherlock Holmes story, from the late 1880s, and indeed I did. That I can tell, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used this exact format only once in all of his stories, in 'The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle', 1892:

"He would show me how to turn the stone into money. But how to get to him in safety?"

This was spoken by a character in the story; his use of the elided sentence fragment marks him as a less-learned, less precisely-spoken person; and indeed the character is a criminal.

You can see that here it's a question, so has the "?" question mark.

There's also a similar and far more common phrase used several times in his works, which reduces this question to its barest parts: 'where to', as in 'The Sign of the Four', 1890:

"Where to?" asked Jones.

This is very clearly an elision, the missing words meaning "where (is the subject going) to?", and it is equivalent to the "How to do X?" question, which is an elision of "How (am I going) to do X?".

But there's a similar usage in 'A Study in Scarlet', 1890:

The question was how to identify an unknown prisoner.

This time it is Sherlock himself speaking, and this is correct usage, without any obvious elision. And there's no '?' because it's not a question, even though it states that it is!

This form would also work as "Could you tell me how to X?"

This is where we start digging into what makes a question "properly formed" in English.

We do it in three different ways, depending on the tense of the verb! If you can think of how the answer would be phrased in various tenses, then you twist it in different ways to turn it into a question, which is just a request for that answer.

  • We invert (swap the positions) of the subject and verb, if the tense is present simple, and for the past simple of 'be' and modal verbs. So if the answer would be "I should display the value" our question is "How should I display the value?", swapping subject 'I' and verb 'should'.
  • We add extra doing-verbs like 'do', 'does' or 'did', for the past simple and the present simple of most other English verbs. "I display the value" => "How do I display the value?", inserting the extra 'do', because swapping them to make "How display I the value" would feel weird and archaic.
  • For all other tenses, we swap the first auxiliary verb and the subject. "I have displayed the value" => "How have I displayed the value?"

Question grammar in English is NASTY :(

There are also plenty of questions on StackExchange, like those linked above, which use the "How to...?" syntax - mostly this is "Headline grammar", an abbreviated form of incorrect-but-understood English that people use for headlines, titles of posts, and suchlike, where words are elided for brevity.

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    The central approach of this answer is great but I think it might be over-egged. I believe many well-educated native speakers might use this construction from time to time despite considering themselves above stuffing a gemstone up a goose's arse.
    – Dan
    Dec 20, 2022 at 17:02
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    “But how to get him to safety?” might be a good example, although I think very old-fashioned. (Although I’ve been known to do a deep dive into history too.) “The question was how to ....” isn’t a literal question (an interrogative sentence). It’s using the word question in another sense, synonymous with “The problem was how to ....” or “The dilemma was how to ....”
    – Davislor
    Dec 20, 2022 at 20:17
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    @DanSheppard It's fine to use it, just not as a question: How to Tie Your Shoelaces
    – Lambie
    Dec 21, 2022 at 19:34
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Contrary to what other answers assert, the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL 2002, ch. 10: §4.5) considers constructions like your example to be sentences, and they explicitly state that the expected punctuation is a question mark if these constructions are used as questions. For illustration, the CGEL uses the following two constructions (CGEL 2002: 873):

[i] What to do in the event of fire

[ii] How to persuade her to forgive him?

The authors describe [i] as a "titular" use of the to-infinitival construction (e.g. used as the title of a "How to" tutorial), and [ii] as a "main clause", which they conclude with a question mark. To quote (CGEL 2002: 873, emphasis mine):

Type [i] is a non-sentential construction: infinitivals of this kind are used as titles of books, articles, etc., or headings for lists, notices, and the like. They have the same function as an NP: compare How to get rich quick and Five ways to get rich quick. In [ii] the interrogative is a main clause, forming a sentence – notice the difference in punctuation between [ii] and [i]. By virtue of forming a sentence, it will normally have illocutionary force: it's a matter of asking, or at least wondering.

The authors however go on to point out that this is a somewhat unusual way to form questions:

This type is somewhat rare and literary; one case of it is in interior monologue, where one is pondering over a question.

So, to answer your question: The CGEL considers your example a valid question type in English, although a rare one, and one that is restricted to specific types of usage. But as a question, the correct and obligatory punctuation to conclude it is the question mark.

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  • Nice find, thanks! "restricted to specific types of usage": What are the different types, aside from the inner monologue? Dec 21, 2022 at 14:26
  • An excellent cite! Dec 21, 2022 at 21:44
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    How to persuade her to forgive him? Yes, but only in spoken English or a dialogue in a novel. The grammar of spoken English is not the grammar of written English.
    – Lambie
    Dec 22, 2022 at 15:56
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Answering strictly in the context of the title of your question, yes, in English questions require that the sentence be ended with a question mark.

As JamesK indicated, your example is neither a question, nor a complete sentence.

Borrowing from the content of your example, a proper question might be:

What are the formatting and layout requirements necessary to display the value of the bar on each bar?

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    It's not necessary to blow up the title in order to have a question. Simply "How can I display the value of the bar on each bar?" is perfectly fine (note "How can I" has replaced "How to")
    – Ben Voigt
    Dec 21, 2022 at 7:11
  • @BenVoigt If I understand you comment, you are addressing the format style of my answer and not the content of the answer. The bolding of the text (what you call "blowing up the title".) was only intended to set it apart as an example. Sorry if that somehow confused you. Dec 21, 2022 at 16:00
  • By "blowing up the title" I meant doubling its length by adding details that definitely belong in the question body but are not necessary or desirable in the title.
    – Ben Voigt
    Dec 21, 2022 at 16:10
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To be brutally clear and simple all questions, because they are questions, necessarily end with question marks. That’s not all but it is much of what defines a question.

(Quite separately and almost equally importantly, since this is ELL, questions end with question marks; a question ends with a question mark. Does that difference between singular and plural make sense to you?)

In the example 'How to display the value of the bar on each bar…' yes, a question mark is compulsory even though what demands that is the context, not the broken grammar… What suggested it could be otherwise?

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  • "questions end with question marks; a question ends with a question mark". noted, thanks :) Dec 21, 2022 at 4:28
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    Robbie, please don't use your answers to comment to other users. That's what the comment space is for. Your comment to Tanner is still in your edit history of this question if you care to copy-pasted any part of it into the comment thread on my answer.
    – gotube
    Dec 21, 2022 at 19:20
  • @gotube Please at least expand your ideas about debate. Dec 21, 2022 at 23:33
  • @gotube After that, please dismount your high horse and recognise that sometimes, Users lay themselves open to being addressed in Answers. Is that something you deny? Dec 21, 2022 at 23:38
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    I would say that an answer can and sometimes should refer to other answers. Expressions similar to "As the Answer by UserX states..." or "Contrary to the assertion in the answer by UserY..." But an answer should not normally directly address other users. Dec 21, 2022 at 23:47
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That kind of usage is not a question in English, or something that people normally say in conversation. By itself, and not as a noun phrase such as in “I wondered how to tell her,” it’s used as a title or a section heading for written directions, not to request help. In that context, it does not take a question mark. Usually, there’s no punctuation after it at all, but sometimes it is followed by a colon and then either a subtitle or a list of instructions. (For example, “How to Bake Bread: A Step-by-Step Guide”)

If you want to turn it into a question that takes a question mark, change “How to ...” to something like “How do I ... ?” or “How would I ... ?” This is how you would normally ask another person.

There are some contexts where you might use this kind of phrase as the answer to a question, such as:

What did you learn in class today?

How to ask for instructions.

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There are many other ways of using "how to" in a sentence where you don't need a question mark at the end.

Like with:

He doesn't know how to get there.


Or with a hyphen between them would mean:

adjective

providing detailed and practical advice about the way to do something.

"a how-to book on public speaking"

noun

a book or other guide that provides detailed and practical advice.

"a how-to on processing digital images"

It's merged into a word which basically means something that shows you how to do something.

Example sentences would be:

This is a how-to book on the creation of this amazing statue.

a how-to on solving this mathematical equation.

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  • Many was of using "how to" in a sentence don't need question marks but that's simply none of them are questions. Does that work for you? Please look back at the Question and tell us whether it asks, as you seem to suggest, 'Can I ever use "how-to" in a sentence without a question mark?' No; it Asks more clearly and usefully 'Do how-to questions end with a question mark?' Your Answer would be correct if the Question had been 'Does the use of "how-to" prove that the sentence or phrase is a Question?' but because that was not the Question, your Answer is not correct not, herre, relevant. Dec 26, 2022 at 20:50
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Even though it's not a complete sentence, it's correct and natural to use fragments like yours with a question mark at the end to ask questions:

How to display the value of the bar on each bar?

It's very common throughout the Stack Exchange network to ask questions this way. In fact, on the front page of this web site right now there are two questions with this structure in their titles:

How to use "and" to connect three verbs?
How to further improve English listening?

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    A question beginning with "How to" like that doesn't sound correct or natural to me at all. I don't think I've ever heard or seen that construction in speech or in print; I only ever see it on the Internet. Dec 19, 2022 at 18:32
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    @Tanner I have definitely heard it used in unambiguously interrogative ways by native speakers in informal speech. I agree that it’s less common in print (excluding the Internet). Since other interrogatives can be used to form subject-free infinitival questions, it’s logical enough to extend this to how as well (if we can ask “What to do?” and “Where to go?”, why not “How to do that?”), and I would guess that is at least part of how the usage arose. Dec 19, 2022 at 18:57
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    @Tanner I’m pretty sure I’ve heard it from people from all over – no particular region springs to mind. The most obvious instance I can think of is from Titanic: after Jack saves Rose from falling off the bow of the ship and Rose backs up his story, her douchebag of a fiancé, Cal, wants to pay Jack off with a fiver or something like that as a thank-you, and Rose says something like, “So that’s what I’m worth to you?”. Cal then says (and I think this is verbatim, but it’s from memory, so may not be), “Rose is displeased… what to do?”. Dec 19, 2022 at 23:35
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    @Tanner-reinstateLGBTpeople Examples of "What to do?" and "Where to go?".
    – gotube
    Dec 20, 2022 at 3:08
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    @Tanner-reinstateLGBTpeople I'm surprised as well that you're not familiar with the structure. As I said in my answer, a significant portion of questions throughout the network use this structure to ask questions.
    – gotube
    Dec 20, 2022 at 18:22

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