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Should rhetorical questions have a question mark?

(7 Posts)
hudyerwheesht Wed 11-Nov-15 09:19:33

I can't get a clear answer via Google so I'm putting this to the MN jury.

A bugbear of mine at work for a long time is the lack of question marks at the end of questions, even rhetorical ones which I've always assumed to be deserving of one as it is still a question.

But a quick search has found some mixed theories regarding the rhetorical ones, with some stating the above and others saying if it is a "polite request" that no question mark is needed.

Now I'm confused.

For example, obviously a direct question such as "where are we with this account?" should have one but rhetorical or polite request-type questions such as "Can you work on this account today?" need not necessarily have one.

I've still put one as to me it looks wrong and also a bit abrupt - more like a demand than a request/question.

Is there actually a hard and fast rule for this? I really wanted one to back up my pedantry

squidzin Wed 11-Nov-15 09:26:08

There is supposed to be a question mark. It's to do with the order or words, the words in a different order would make it a statement l.

It's either

"You can work on this account today"
"Can you work on this account today?"

Rhetorical questions are still supposed to have question marks aren't they.

hudyerwheesht Wed 11-Nov-15 09:36:11


That's exactly my argument! The Google search results have been poor at backing this up though.

happyinherts Wed 11-Nov-15 09:40:54

Definitely, a question mark.

DadDadDad Wed 11-Nov-15 12:39:05

I think it also helps in pointing to inflection when seeing something written.

"Can you work on this today?" with a rising, questioning intonation seems better with a question mark. Although, I wonder if it is rhetorical, as surely it expects an answer, even if it only allows that answer to be "yes".

I can imagine a more authoritative "Can you work on this today" with a downwards inflection more like saying "I want you to work on this today". Maybe then a lack of question mark would indicate this intonation.

Ha! Reading this back, I've just realised that above I wrote a rhetorical question ("surely it expects...") but didn't put a question mark on it. So I don't seem to be keeping to the rule!

hudyerwheesht Wed 11-Nov-15 13:04:29


Yes, I imagine the missing question mark version to be without inflection, therefore more demanding rather than asking which may be why I take slight offense to it!

Some of them genuinely are rhetorical though, I don't imagine either my boss or deputy expecting a response; they are merely assigning work for the day.

But still it bugs me.


"can you send the completed form to me when you get a second"
"could you let me know if you are able to work this weekend"
"when you get a chance, can you look into the above enquiry please"

Question marks needed, surely?

ThenLaterWhenItGotDark Wed 11-Nov-15 14:39:08

"Yes/No" questions have rising intonation, open (or WH- questions) have falling intonation.

Rhetorical questions follow the same intonation rules.

I've never seen a grammar/syntax book that wouldn't use a question mark with a rhetorical question- I imagine because the idea that it is rhetorical (and thus needs no response) is subjective.

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