8

I was wondering if it's OK to put a question mark after an embedded question?

Example sentences are below:

  1. I was wondering if he is from California?
  2. I'm not sure if that's the right solution?
  3. I'd like to know if it's OK to put a question mark after an embedded question?
  • you need to put your question across in detail. – Leo Dec 6 '14 at 6:40
  • I added a few example sentences. :) – Anonymous Dec 6 '14 at 7:00
  • Your examples are in the form of declarative clauses, not interrogative clauses. Though, your examples do contain a subordinate interrogative clause. Usually, the default for declarative clauses is use a period (i.e. full stop) at the end of the sentence; but a writer (or speaker) could put a question mark at the end of the sentence to indicate that the sentence has the meaning of a question and would be said with the intonation that is common to a question. The topic you're interested in is declarative question, e.g. "You're ready?" – F.E. Dec 6 '14 at 7:51
  • @J_LV The same way you'd make "You're ready?" sound like a question: you'd voice the last word (e.g. "ready") with a rising intonation, and so, you'd do that with the other declarative questions too. One can pretty much make any sentence sound like a question by doing that (though there seems to be a dialect whose speakers tend to voice much of their sentences like that). – F.E. Dec 6 '14 at 8:34
4

The Chicago Manual of Style[6.67,6.68] confirms F.E's comment that your example sentences are indirect; they should not have question marks.

6.67

A question mark is used to mark the end of a direct question within a sentence. If the question does not begin the sentence, it need not start with a capital letter (but see 6.52).

Is it worth the risk? he wondered.

6.68

An indirect question never takes a question mark. See also 6.52.

He wondered whether it was worth the risk. How the two could be reconciled was the question on everyone’s mind.

  • 2
    I like that you included a reference in your answer. It might be worth noting that different style guides might have different guidelines for capitalizing the question, as mentioned in quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/… – ColleenV Dec 6 '14 at 17:08
  • 1
    Thanks for the info! They all agree that indirect questions inside sentences are never capitalized, fortunately. – Jacob R. Dec 6 '14 at 17:17
1

All three of those sentences are declarative statements. None are questions, and none contain a question. So, each sentence should end with a period, not a question mark.

This is a common error made by native speakers in writing, because the intent of each statement is to get someone to respond by providing information, the same as a question. But each sentence makes a statement of fact and leaves the questioning intent to implication.

The following might illustrate why these are declarative statements and not questions.

I was wondering if he is from California. But when I saw his driver's license, I stopped wondering.

I'm not sure if that's the right solution. And please don't tell me.

I'd like to know if it's OK to put a question mark after an embedded question. To find out, I'll ask on ELL.

If you want to explicitly turn these into questions, you could write:

I was wondering, is he from California?

I'm not sure—is that the right solution?

I'd like to know: is it OK to put a question mark after an embedded question?

These sentences really do contain questions. You can tell by the altered word order. As you can see, the answer to your question is actually yes (depending on how one defines "embedded question").

  • As a matter of terminology, some linguists do refer to interrogative content clauses as "embedded questions", as the OP does here. There's nothing particularly wrong with doing so―it just depends on whether we restrict the term "question" to main clause interrogatives. You do so, which is fine, but you don't say so explicitly; hopefully the OP can see that and understand the answer anyway. – snailboat Dec 11 '14 at 5:28
  • @snailboat Thanks for clarifying that. I had not previously heard "embedded question" used for this broader meaning, but I can see how it makes sense. Grammar terminology is certainly not well standardized. For clarity, I'll remove "embedded question" from my answer. – Ben Kovitz Dec 11 '14 at 5:33
0

Think of it as reported speech to understand it better. For example

"Have you been to Bristol before?"

is converted to the following in reported speech:

She asked if I had been to Bristol before.

The (if / whether) word works as a word to indicate what follows it is a question. So, a trailing ? interrogative mark to do the same is redundant, which is why it isn't needed and isn't used.

And it is a well-known fact that when a direct speech is converted to reported speech, it just becomes a declarative sentence.

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