Use of the Question Mark: Written English Tips

In addition to understanding how to use the full stop (period), it is equally important to understand how and when to use the question mark.  

When asked to correct e-mails, reports and other written forms of communication penned by IT professionals in Kerala, the second fault I find in punctuation usage is the use of the question mark. 

The four main problems with solutions include:  

1. The use of the full stop instead of a question mark at the end of a question.
Example: Where can I find the petrol pump.  

Quick Fix Tip: Use the question mark instead. 
Solution: Where can I find the petrol pump
Take note: Most statements that begin with question words (who, when, where, why, what, how) will require a question mark at the end. If the statement is a question, it needs a question mark at the end of the statement. 

2. The use of the the question mark and the full stop together. 
Example: Where can I find the petrol pump?.  OR  Where can I find the petrol pump.? 
Quick Fix Tip:
Only use the question mark.Solution: Where can I find the petrol pump?

3. No punctuation. 
Example: Where can I find the petrol pump 

Quick Fix Tip: Use the question mark.  
Solution: Where can I find the petrol pump?  
Take Note: All statements (complete sentences) in written English require a punctuation to end it, either a full stop, a question mark or an exclamation mark. 

4. Spacing problems when using the question mark. 
Example: Where can I find the petrol pump ? 

This is very common among some Indian writers of English. For instance, see this post on LinkedIn - the author puts spaces between the word and the question mark as well as extra spaces when using parenthesis ().

Quick Fix Tip: Remove the space before the question mark. Leave one space after the question mark before the start of the next statement. This is similar to how to space full stops.
Solution: Where can I find the petrol pump? It is at the next junction. 

These tips will help you to write English with better clarity and confidence. The reader of your words will also be able to read and understand your messages with more confidence and fluency. 


Author Jennifer Kumar is a American culture coach and English language specialist helping Indians communicate with more clarity with their US counterparts. Contact her today for more information about training your corporate groups. 

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