How to Punctuate Quotations with Question Marks
English grammarians have devised a special set of rules for punctuating quotations that are questions. Pop quiz: Does the question mark go inside or outside of the quotation mark? Well, the answer is, it depends.
Take a look at Betsy’s quotations:
“How can you eat a tuna sandwich while hoisting a piano?” Betsy asked as she eyed his lunch.
“May I have a bite?” she queried.
Here are the same questions put another way:
As she eyed his lunch Betsy asked, “How can you eat a tuna sandwich while hoisting a piano?”
She queried, “May I have a bite?”
What do you notice about these two sets of quotations? That’s right! The quoted words are questions.
If you quote a question, put the question mark inside the quotation marks.
This rule makes good sense; it distinguishes a quoted question from a quotation embedded in a question. Time to look at one more part of Betsy’s encounter with the falling piano. The piano mover answered Betsy, but no one could understand his words. (He had a mouthful of tuna fish.)
Did he say, “I can’t give you a bite of my sandwich because I ate it all”?
Did he really declare, “It was just a piano”?
The quoted words in this set are not questions. However, each entire sentence is a question. Now it’s time for more rules:
If the quoted words aren’t a question but the entire sentence is a question, the question mark goes outside the quotation marks. (This rule makes sense too, don’t you think?)
To sum up the rules on question marks:
If the quoted words are a question, put the question mark inside the quotation marks.
If the entire sentence is a question, put the question mark outside the quotation marks.
Some of you detail-oriented (okay, picky) people may want to know what to do when the quotation and the sentence are both questions. Read on.
For those rare occasions when both the quoted words and the sentence are questions, put the question mark inside the quotation marks.
Here’s an example of this rule:
Did the mover really ask, “Is that lady for real?”
No matter what, don’t use two question marks:
Wrong: Did Betsy ask, “What’s the number of a good lawyer?”?
Right: Did Betsy ask, “What’s the number of a good lawyer?”
Which sentence is correct?
A. Did Lulu say, “I wish a piano would drop on me so that I could sue?”
B. Did Lulu say, “I wish a piano would drop on me so that I could sue”?
Answer: Sentence B is correct. Because the quoted words are not a question and the entire sentence is a question, the question mark goes outside the quotation marks.