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Question Mark Placement in Dialogue

Categories: Grammar.

Q: When writing dialog where one character poses a question to another, where do you place the question mark? Does it go inside the quote mark or at the end of the entire sentence? –Tamara T.

A: The question mark should always appear at the end of the question—whether that’s the end of the sentence or not. If two of your characters are having a conversation, the dialogue (and proper punctuation placement) might go something like this:

“Why are you growing a mustache?” asked Jonathon.
“Why do you care?” said Cliff.
Jonathon responded, “Why did you answer my question with a question?”

It’s important to note that whenever the question falls inside quote marks, the question mark generally falls inside the quote marks (as shown in the examples above). The only real exception to the rule is when a character is quoting another character, and the use of single quote marks inside double quote marks come into play. For example:

“Did you really just ask me if I answered your ‘question with a question’?” asked Cliff.

Placing the question mark on the wrong side of the quote is a rookie mistake made by writers—and one that agents will notice. Be sure to get it right and stay consistent.

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4 Responses to Question Mark Placement in Dialogue

  1. Excellent point, Mike. I tried avoiding using the term always because I thought there may be an exception (but couldn’t think of it for the life of me). I’ve adjusted my answer to reflect it.

    Brian

  2. Mike Pascale says:

    Thanks for the tip, Brian!

    Couple things:

    First, I have to admit ignorance and ask about your line, "…the question mark must all fall inside the quote marks…" What does "all fall" mean? Was that supposed to be "always"?

    Second, I think there’s an exception to the rule. If a character is asking a question about another character’s statement, the mark should go outside the interior quote and inside the exterior quotes, logically speaking. Example:
    Cliff snorted, "I am not interested in your twits."
    "Did you just say ‘twits’?" asked Jonathon.

    Thanks again and keep up the great advice!

    Best,
    Mike

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