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Questioning Question Marks

We could look at the question mark as a special kind of full stop.  Indeed, question marks are one of the first punctuation marks we’ll be introduced to as children, which is quite appropriate as young people ask so many questions.

Introducing the Question Mark

In his book ‘Discovering Grammar’ (Longman 1996), David Crystal tells us that 

“A simple way of turning a statement into a yes-no question is to add a questioning toe of voice.”

The questioning tone of voice when written, is simply represented by a question mark replacing a full stop.  This is a nice and simple way to introduce question marks to children.  Crystal makes a similar claim regarding exclamations, but the GPS tests in their wisdom decided to insist that all exclamations should contain a verb (fair enough) and should start with ‘how’ or ‘what’.

Why wouldn’t you start an exclamation with a questioning word?

I digress.

Moving On to Question Types

Yes/no questions are the simplest type of questions and are often referred to as closed questions, because they are answered with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ to close the conversation.  Most of us will have played the question game where we are asked a series of questions and have to avoid answering with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and this can be great fun in the classroom.

Open questions lend themselves to learning in KS2 and above and can also provide additional stimulus for writing (particularly for things like newspaper reports).  Who, what, why, where, how and which will typically be the sentence openers for this type of question and will often be a clue that you’ll need a question mark at the end of the sentence instead of a full stop.

The Auxiliary verb ‘to do’ will also be a clue that a question mark will often be required in writing - probably more common in yes/no questions.

As we move on through our school career, we will be introduced to rhetorical questions: questions that are asked for effect, implying that the correct answer is obvious.  I would advise to tread carefully when teaching these as questions that don’t require an answer as there will invariably be a child determined to answer them purely to be awkward! 

I have seen rhetorical questions taught as requiring a question mark and not requiring a question mark.  Both approaches can work and have their place in language.

Question marks are taught in ‘The KS1 Show’ and referenced in ‘The Punctuation Show’.

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