Question mark

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"?" redirects here. For the backwards or mirrored question mark used to indicate irony or sarcasm, see percontation point. For other uses, see ? (disambiguation).
Question mark
Inverted question mark Small question mark
apostrophe   '
brackets [ ]  ( )  { }  ⟨ ⟩
colon :
comma ,  ،  
dash ‒  –  —  ―
ellipsis   ...  . . .
exclamation mark  !
full stop, period .
guillemets ‹ ›  « »
hyphen-minus -
question mark  ?
quotation marks ‘ ’  “ ”  ' '  " "
semicolon ;
slash, stroke, solidus /  
Word dividers
interpunct ·
General typography
ampersand &
asterisk *
at sign @
backslash \
caret ^
dagger † ‡
degree °
ditto mark
inverted exclamation mark ¡
inverted question mark ¿
number sign, pound, hash, octothorpe #
numero sign
obelus ÷
multiplication sign ×
ordinal indicator º ª
percent, per mil  % ‰
plus and minus + −
equals sign =
basis point
section sign §
tilde ~
underscore, understrike _
vertical bar, pipe, broken bar |    ¦
Intellectual property
copyright ©
sound-recording copyright
registered trademark ®
service mark
currency sign ¤

฿¢$֏ƒ£ ¥

Uncommon typography
index, fist
irony punctuation
In other scripts

The question mark [ ? ] (also known as interrogation point, query, or eroteme in journalism)[1] is a punctuation mark that indicates an interrogative clause or phrase in many languages. The question mark is not used for indirect questions. The question mark glyph is also often used in place of missing or unknown data. In Unicode, it is encoded at U+003F ? QUESTION MARK (HTML ?).


In English, the question mark typically occurs at the end of a sentence, where it replaces the full stop (period). However, it may also occur at the end of a clause or phrase, where it replaces the comma:[2]

Is it good in form? style? meaning?


'Showing off for him, for all of them, not out of hubris—hubris? him? what did he have to be hubrid about?—but from mood and nervousness.'[3]

This is quite common in Spanish, where the use of bracketing question marks explicitly indicates the scope of interrogation.

En el caso de que no puedas ir con ellos, ¿quieres ir con nosotros? (In case you cannot go with them, would you like to go with us?)

A question mark may also appear immediately after questionable data, such as dates:

Genghis Khan (1162?–1227)

However, interrogative requests typically use a full stop (period) rather than a question mark[citation needed]:

Will you please forward my mail.

In other languages and scripts[edit]

Opening and closing question marks[edit]

Opening and closing question marks

In Spanish, since the second edition of the Ortografía of the Royal Academy in 1754, interrogatives require both opening (¿) and closing (?) question marks.[4][5] An interrogative sentence, clause, or phrase begins with an inverted question mark¿⟩ and ends with the question mark ⟨?⟩, as in:

Ella me pregunta «¿qué hora es?» – She asks me, "What time is it?"[6]

Question marks must always be matched, but to mark uncertainty rather than actual interrogation omitting the opening one is allowed, although discouraged:[7]

Gengis Kan (¿1162?–1227) is better than Gengis Kan (1162?–1227)

The omission of the opening mark is common in informal writing, but is considered an error. The one exception is when the question mark is matched with an exclamation mark, as in:

¡Quién te has creído que eres? – Who do you think you are?!

(The order may also be reversed, opening with a question mark and closing with an exclamation mark.) Nonetheless, even here the Academy recommends matching punctuation:[8]

¡¿Quién te has creído que eres?!

Other languages of Spain: Catalan and Galician also uses the inverted opening question mark though usually only in long sentences or in cases which would otherwise be ambiguous. Basque only use one question mark.

Armenian question mark[edit]

Question mark in Armenian

In Armenian the question mark ( ՞ ) takes the form of an open circle and is placed over the last vowel of the question word. It is defined in Unicode at U+055E ՞ ARMENIAN QUESTION MARK.

Greek question mark[edit]

The Greek question mark (Greek: ερωτηματικό, erōtīmatikó (;)) appeared around the same time as the Latin one, in the 8th century.[9] It was adopted by Church Slavonic and eventually settled on a form essentially similar to the Latin semicolon. In Unicode, it is separately encoded as U+037E ; GREEK QUESTION MARK, but the similarity is so great that the code point canonically decomposes to U+003B ; SEMICOLON making the marks identical in practice.[10]

Mirrored question mark[edit]

Not to be confused with Irony punctuation.
Mirrored question mark in Arabic and Persian

In Arabic and languages that use Arabic script such as Persian and Urdu, which are written from right to left, the question mark ؟ is mirrored right-to-left from the English question mark. (Some browsers may display the character in the previous sentence as a forward question mark due to font or text directionality issues).

In Unicode, two encodings are available: U+061F ؟ ARABIC QUESTION MARK (HTML ؟ · With Bidi code AL: Right-to-Left Arabic) and U+2E2E REVERSED QUESTION MARK (HTML ⸮ · With bi-directional code Other Neutrals).

Hebrew and Yiddish are also written right-to-left, but they use a question mark that appears on the page in the same orientation as the Roman-alphabet question mark.[11]

Fullwidth question mark[edit]

The question mark is also used in modern writing in Chinese, and Japanese, although it is not strictly necessary in either. Usually it is written as fullwidth form in Chinese and Japanese, in Unicode: U+FF1F FULLWIDTH QUESTION MARK (HTML ?).

In other scripts[edit]

Some other scripts have a specific question mark:

Stylistic variants[edit]

French usage must include a non-breaking space before the question mark (for example, "Que voulez-vous boire ?"),[12] whereas in the English language orthography no space is allowed in front of the question mark (e.g. "What do you drink?"), see also: Plenken.

In typography, some stylistic variants and combinations are available:


Rhetorical question mark[edit]

Main article: Irony mark

The rhetorical question mark or percontation point was invented by Henry Denham in the 1580s and was used at the end of a rhetorical question; however, its use died out in the 17th century. It was later revived in modern-day society by Matt DiRoberto. It was the reverse of an ordinary question mark, so that instead of the main opening pointing back into the sentence, it opened away from it.[13] This character can be represented using the reversed question mark (⸮) found in Unicode as U+2E2E. The percontation point is analogous to the Irony mark, but these are very rarely seen.

Bracketed question marks can be used for rhetorical questions, for example "Oh, really(?)", in informal contexts such as subtitles. For an ironic or sarcastic statement, a bracketed exclamation mark may be used: "Oh, really(!)".

The question mark can also be used as a meta-sign to signal uncertainty regarding what precedes. It is usually put between brackets (?). The uncertainty may concern either a superficial (such as unsure spelling) or a deeper truth (real meaning) level.


In computing, the question mark character is represented by ASCII code 63 (0x3F hexadecimal), and is located at Unicode code-point U+003F. The full-width (double-byte) equivalent, , is located at Unicode code-point U+FF1F. The HTML codes for this character are &#x3F and &63.[14]

The question mark is often utilized as a wildcard character: a symbol that can be used to substitute for any other character or characters in a string. In particular "?" is used as a substitute for any one character as opposed to the asterisk, "*", which can be used as a substitute for zero or more characters in a string. The inverted question mark (¿) corresponds to Unicode code-point 191 (U+00BF), and can be accessed from the keyboard in Microsoft Windows on the default US layout by holding down the Alt key and typing either 1 6 8 (ANSI) or 0 1 9 1 (Unicode) on the numeric keypad. In GNOME applications, it can be entered by typing the hexadecimal Unicode character while holding down both ctrl and shift, i.e.: ctrl+shift+BF. In recent XFree86 and X.Org incarnations of the X Window System, it can be accessed as a compose sequence of two straight question marks, i.e. pressing <Compose> ? ? yields ¿. In classic Mac OS and macOS, the key combo Option+Shift+? produces an inverted question mark.

The question mark is used in ASCII renderings of the International Phonetic Alphabet, such as SAMPA in place of the glottal stop symbol, ʔ, (which resembles "?" without the dot), and corresponds to Unicode code point U+0294, Latin letter glottal stop.

In computer programming, the symbol "?" has a special meaning in many programming languages. In C-descended languages, "?" is part of the ?: operator, which is used to evaluate simple boolean conditions. In C# 2.0, the "?" modifier is used to handle nullable data types and "??" is the null coalescing operator. In the POSIX syntax for regular expressions, such as the one used in Perl and Python, ? stands for "zero or one instance of the previous subexpression", i.e. an optional element. In certain implementations of the BASIC programming language, the "?" character may be used as a shorthand for the "print" function; in others (notably the BBC BASIC family), "?" is used to address a single-byte memory location. In OCaml, the question mark precedes the label for an optional parameter. In Scheme, as a convention, symbol names ending in ? are used for predicates such as odd?, null?, and eq?. Similarly, in Ruby, method names ending in ? are used for predicates. In Swift, a type followed by "?" denotes an option type; "?" is also used in "optional chaining", where if an option value is nil, it ignores the following operations.

In many web browsers and other computer programs, when converting text between encodings, it may not be possible to map some characters into the target character set. In this situation it is common to replace each unmappable character with a question mark “?", inverted question mark “¿", or the Unicode replacement character “�" (U+FFFD, usually rendered as a white question mark in a black diamond). This commonly occurs for apostrophes and quotation marks when they are written with software that uses its own proprietary non-standard code for these characters, such as Microsoft's Smart Quotes.

The generic URL syntax allows for a query string to be appended to a resource location in a web address so that additional information can be passed to a script; the query mark, ?, is used to indicate the start of a query string. A query string is usually made up of a number of different field/value pairs, each separated by the ampersand symbol, &, as seen in this URL:

Here, a script on the page login.php on the server is to provide a response to the query string containing the pairs "username"-"test" and "password"-"blank".

(Sending username / password in a query string is a very bad practice because then passwords will appear in plaintext in browser history)


In algebraic chess notation, "?" denotes a bad move, and "??" a blunder, "?!" a dubious move and "!?" an interesting move. For details of all of the chess punctuation see punctuation (chess).

In Scrabble, a question mark indicates a blank tile.[15]


In mathematics, "?" commonly denotes Minkowski's question mark function. In equations, it can mean "questioned" as opposed to "defined".



A question mark is used in English medical notes to suggest a possible diagnosis. It facilitates the recording of a doctor's impressions regarding a patient's symptoms and signs. For example, for a patient presenting with left lower abdominal pain, a differential diagnosis might include "?diverticulitis" (read as 'query diverticulitis').

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots & Leaves, 2003. p. 139. ISBN 978-1-86197-612-3.
  2. ^ See also question comma.
  3. ^ Stanley Elkin, 1991, The MacGuffin, p. 173
  4. ^ Truss, Lynn (2004). Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham Books. pp. 142–143. ISBN 1-59240-087-6. 
  5. ^ Real Academia Española, ed. (1754). Ortografía de la Lengua Castellana. 
  6. ^ Upside Down Exclamation Point
  7. ^ Interrogación y exclamación (signos de). Punto 3d.
  8. ^ Interrogación y exclamación (signos de). Punto 3b.
  9. ^ Thompson, Edward Maunde. An Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaiography, pp. 60 f. Clarendon Press (Oxford), 1912.
  10. ^ Nicolas, Nick. "Greek Unicode Issues: Punctuation Archived November 20, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.". 2005. Accessed 7 Oct 2014.
  11. ^ Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots & Leaves, 2003. p. 143. ISBN 1-59240-087-6.
  12. ^ Book typography, Ari Rafaeli, 2005
  13. ^ Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots & Leaves, 2003. p. 142. ISBN 1-59240-087-6.
  14. ^ "Character Codes -- HTML Codes, Hexadecimal Codes & HTML Names ❤ ❤". Retrieved 7 August 2016. 
  15. ^ "Scrabble Glossary". Tucson Scrabble Club. Retrieved 2012-02-06. 


  • Lupton, Ellen and Miller, J. Abbott, "Period styles: a punctuated history", in The Norton Reader 11th edition, ed. Linda H. Peterson, Norton, 2003 Online excerpt (at least)
  • Parkes, M.B., Pause and Effect: an Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West, University of California Press, 1993
  • Truss, Lynne, Eats, Shoots & Leaves Gotham Books, NY, p. 139

External links[edit]