When I asked an earlier question I wasn't sure whether to put a question mark at the end of the following sentence, which is, obviously, a question, even if it is not written in interrogative form:

Since I suppose both are grammatical, I wonder which one, "A" or "B", sounds more natural English?

The question is: is ending that sentence with a question mark obligatory?

  • After reviewing the discussion with Bill Franke I have come to the conclusion that his answer is more appropriate to the audience here, and my own entirely inappropriate. Could I trouble to you unAccept my answer so I may delete it? – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 4 '13 at 17:59


  • But see Nunberg's The Linguistics of Punctuation for an alternate explanation of what exactly punctuation is. – snailplane Mar 3 '13 at 15:41
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    @snailplane I am in fact very sympathetic to Nunberg's point of view, and I will fiercely defend the status of the written language as a distinct dialect. Nunberg is quite right to reject the notion of punctuation as 'transcription' of oral phenomena. But I think punctuation is properly seen as analogous not to prosodic linguistic components of speech, which remain 'subtextual' in the written dialects, but to the non-linguistic gestures which accompany speech. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 3 '13 at 16:26

The question mark is incorrect because the sentence is an indirect question and not a direct question. Neither of the other answers provides any authoritative source that recommends using or not using a "?" for sentences such as these, but here's what one trustworthy web page says (and I agree):

"Be careful not to put a question mark at the end of an indirect question. [My emphasis.]

The instructor asked the students what they were doing.
I asked my sister if she had a date.
I wonder if Cheney will run for vice president again.
I wonder whether Cheney will run again.

Be careful to distinguish between an indirect question (above), and a question that is embedded within a statement which we do want to end with a question mark.

We can get to Boston quicker, can't we, if we take the interstate?
His question was, can we end this statement with a question mark?
She ended her remarks with a resounding why not?
I wonder: will Cheney run for office again?

  • But I think OP's example corresponds to your last example (only without the colon) "I wonder: which sounds more natural?" – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 3 '13 at 16:48
  • @Stoney: The colon makes all the difference. After the colon comes an independent clause. Without the colon, it's merely an indirect question. It may look like a direct question because it's a relative clause with a WH-word head, which is, of course, question word order. Don't be fooled by that coincidence, however. I'd say that "Which one sounds more natural, 'A' or 'B'?" sounds more like a natural English question than the syntax in the OP's sentence does. But that's just me. – user264 Mar 3 '13 at 17:20
  • @Stoney Fersher the colon helps, too; but the colon doesn't make it an independent clause, the colon just marks it as an independent clause and makes it obvious that it's a question. Outside of Renaissance critical theory, wonder means raise a question. What we've got here is more a philosophical question than a linguistic one: if a question is raised in a forest with nobody to hear it is it really a question? – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 3 '13 at 17:38
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    @Stoney: Indirect questions are semantically questions, yes, because they invite answers. Eg: (A) I wonder what his name is. (B) Joe. But grammatically (syntactically) it's not a question, so it doesn't take "?". (A) "I wonder what his name is"? Is that what you said?. (B) Yes. In this case it's a question, but not the same kind. Tag Qs that are allegations aren't semantically Qs, but they're grammatically Qs & take the "?", eg: "You murderer! You killed him, didn't you? [NB: Falling intonation, not rising Q intonation] I know you did!" – user264 Mar 4 '13 at 0:34
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    @Fu: What you say is perfectly fine for informal writing: anything is. I don't like having to add "?" to tag Qs that I intend as statements (falling intonation) instead of real Qs, but on a formal English test, I have to to pass. StoneyB recognized that the audience here is EFL students. They aren't interested in our personal prejudices (& we have myriad) but in what's "correct" English. Test English is the only kind that must be judged correct/incorrect. Everyday English is another story. Please recognize the difference & don't confuse the EFL students: rants help no one but the ranter. – user264 Mar 5 '13 at 6:01

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