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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?

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  • 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? Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 17:59
  • As far as the grammar is concerned, it's a statement about what you're wondering, not a question. It's a common way to ask a question, but, for instance, if you're saying this to someone who couldn't possibly answer, then it's clear you're just telling them that you're wondering about it. A question mark at the end would suggest you're unsure whether you're wondering or not
    – gotube
    Commented May 31, 2021 at 22:55

2 Answers 2

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As a matter of language, no punctuation is ever obligatory. In speech, there are no periods, commas, dashes, question marks, ellipses, diareses, graves, aigus or any other points. Punctuation is merely mark-up intended to make the linguistic substance more understandable in the absence of important linguistic information such as pauses and intonation.

So you punctuate to make your structure and intention clear. "I wonder which sounds more natural" has the form of a statement, and could be interpreted as merely a report on your present uncertain state of mind. That interpretation would be modestly reinforced by pointing with a period. More likely, however, particularly given the context, you are describing your uncertainty in the hope that someone will resolve it. That is almost certainly how it will be interpreted; and you may explicitly dismiss any ambiguity by pointing with a question mark.

A question mark is not obligatory, but it is recommended, as a cue to your reader.

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  • But see Nunberg's The Linguistics of Punctuation for an alternate explanation of what exactly punctuation is.
    – user230
    Commented Mar 3, 2013 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. Commented Mar 3, 2013 at 16:26
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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?

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  • But I think OP's example corresponds to your last example (only without the colon) "I wonder: which sounds more natural?" Commented Mar 3, 2013 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
    Commented Mar 3, 2013 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? Commented Mar 3, 2013 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
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 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
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 6:01

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