When a Question isn’t Really a Question
How often don’t you ask a rhetorical question. One that you really don’t expect an answer to. (Like the first sentence in this paragraph.)
So when does a question need a question mark?
When you expect an answer.
Direct questions—the kind journalists ask to get a story—demand an answer. We call them the 5 (or 6) W’s: who, what, when, where, why and how.
What happened? Who was involved? When did it happen? Where? Why? How?
Direct questions almost always begin with some variation of the 5 W’s. If one of them isn’t the first word in the sentence, it’s probably in there some place, like: “Well, just what are you doing in there?” or “Just who do you think you are?”
Sentences that begin with a being verb like are, is, were and the like also indicate a direction question.
Are you alone?
Do you love me?
Is this the best you can do?
All these questions demand an answer and a question mark.
Sometimes we pose indirect questions—questions that we really don’t expect an answer to.
They may be questions you’re posing to yourself:
Now, why did I come in here? (Then again, you may be looking for that answer.)
They may be relating something in the past tense:
I asked her what the problem was.
They may be rhetorical questions:
What’s up with that.
No one really expects an answer to a question like that. And neither do these indirect questions require question marks.