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Extract from The Lottery Ticket by Anton Chekhov:

"I forgot to look at the newspaper today." said Masha, as she was clearing the table. "Is the list of lottery numbers in it?" "Yes, it is." said Ivan. "But you didn't buy a ticket this week ?"

My issue is: Should the final phrase have a question mark or a period at the end?

I am aware that there are two categories of interrogative sentences: yes/no questions and wh family questions, which start with what, why, who, etc. Which group does this question belong to?

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  • Your post’s title and body formulate different questions. What is it that you wish to know? As to the title, a simple Google search will unearth quite a bit. Commented Jun 3 at 13:36
  • I saw the same sentence ending in a period and also question mark (when I searched the net). All the questions are related to the difference between the two. I felt asking in various ways could enable others to give a detailed answer. Commented Jun 3 at 16:48
  • I think this is a case where the difference between the two is far more interesting and shows how punctuation changes the meaning of the sentence. Changing it to a "can" question about grammar changes it to be a question about the expansiveness of "correct" grammar and loses the nuance of how punctuation influences meaning. Commented Jun 3 at 21:08
  • Should it have a question mark or a period at the end? That depends on if it was declarative or interrogative. - There are no words that you cannot start a sentence with.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jun 4 at 1:02
  • Which group does this interrogative sentence belong to?
    – Mazura
    Commented Jun 4 at 1:03

2 Answers 2

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The answer is a bit more complex than it may seem at first. The question that is being asked is hidden in the context of the conversation.

To end the sentence with a period, would indicate that Ivan was reminding Masha that she did not buy a ticket.

To end the sentence with a question mark but without any context, would indicate that Ivan was asking an interrogative question, But you didn't buy a ticket this week [did you]? The did you is implied by the presence of the question mark.

Within the context of the conversation, however, we learn that Masha is asking about the lottery numbers, while Ivan is aware that Masha did not buy a lottery ticket. Ivan's question refers to this discrepancy between what Masha is asking and Masha's current situation. Masha wants to know about lottery numbers even though she has not purchased a ticket.

When Ivan responds, Yes it is, he acknowledges that numbers are in the newspaper but his question then becomes, But you didn't buy a ticket [so why are you asking]?

It's a Wh question hidden in the context of a statement and indicated by a question mark.

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  • In the story, Ivan is the husband and Masha, the wife. (Russian story) Masha's reply, "Yes, I did. I bought a ticket on Thursday." Commented Jun 3 at 12:47
  • I did a little work on Masha. She's all fixed up now.
    – EllieK
    Commented Jun 3 at 13:06
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    Excellent analysis. Let's also add that it's a translation, that Chekhov wrote biting dramedies, and that "Yes, it is ... But" is virtually one sentence. Commented Jun 3 at 13:36
  • @Yosef: The analysis would have been excellent, had JamesMathai not completely destroyed it because Masha did too, buy a ticket Commented Jun 4 at 20:44
  • @GwenKillerby Only Masha bought the ticket. It's not a suspense. The story revolves around this. The couple start imagining that they won the lottery. Commented Jun 27 at 0:30
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Compare:

So, you want to buy my car?

-- Yes.

But you don't have any money and want to do a trade instead?

-- That's right. I have a winning lottery ticket from 1954 that was never redeemed. It's probably worth millions and millions by now.

That kind of question, which has the form of a statement but is delivered (sometimes) with question intonation, is normally seeking confirmation of something that came up earlier in the conversation.

It means something like "I want to make sure my understanding of the situation is correct. Is it?"

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  • I agree but it's always in conversation.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 3 at 14:19
  • @Lambie There's a conversation going on between Masha and Ivan.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 3 at 14:59
  • Yes, but I think you need to say it specifically as a reference for further usage. That's all.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 3 at 14:59
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    It doesn't have to be in conversation. "We know he falsified the documents. But did he intend to influence the election?" Commented Jun 3 at 15:18
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    @Lambie I think my statement is enough, that this form of question is "normally seeking confirmation of something that came up earlier in the conversation". But it can be found where the "conversation" is no more than a convention, as in an address to the reader that occurs in, say, a how-to book: "So, you want to buy a used car? But you're afraid of getting scammed? If so, you've come to the right place. This book will tell you all you need to know to avoid being a patsy when buying a used car."
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 3 at 15:37

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