In creative writing, the question mark shows up all the time. In expository writing, question marks do appear—often as mistakes.
The question mark serves a variety of roles.
Ask a Question
The question mark ends the sentence that is a question:
Who will win the election?
Express Doubtful Dates
The question mark reveals doubtful dates:
The founder (1733?-1793) built the first house in the village.
Question Within a Larger Sentence
Writers often improperly enclose these interrogative elements in quotation marks. Just use the question mark. Begin these questions with capital letters if they seem to be formal questions. If they seem informal, use lowercase:
He wondered, will I win? As she asked herself, How will I ever pay for this? she continued to look through the medical-school brochure.
Italics for One-Word Questions
When you use the words how, when, where, or other question-asking words, put them in italics, not quotation marks, and leave out the question marks:
The question is not if but when and how. She asked herself why.
Declarative Becomes an Interrogative
Use a question mark to turn a declarative into an interrogative.
This is your master's thesis? Call back tomorrow?
Omit in Courteous Requests
Omit the question mark in courteous requests.
Will you please send us your answer as soon as possible.
Omit for Indirect Questions
Omit the question mark in indirect questions.
How the students survived was the question the reporters wanted to ask.
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