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Would it be appropriate to end a rhetorical question with a period, to show that it is not intended as a question that one should ponder or attempt to answer? For instance:

Why do I eat so much(?)(.)(!)

I don't want anyone to answer it, but it's still phrased as a question.

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Can you give an example or two? –  Kosmonaut Feb 15 '11 at 21:19
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That's like when a woman asks if her outfit makes her look heavy; best to treat that as rhetorical and leave that one unanswered. –  Will Feb 15 '11 at 21:23
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Well, IMHO you often lose the force of rhetoric if you don't phrase it as a question and include the question mark. :p –  ShreevatsaR Feb 15 '11 at 21:29
    
My example of a real rhetorical question that brought me to this site is: "Isn't it wonderful that we can just pick up and share as though there hasn't been a big gap in our conversations?" I started out with a question mark, but felt an exclamation point would be more appropriate. –  user53893 Oct 10 '13 at 14:56

4 Answers 4

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Rhetorical questions can be ended with either a question mark, an exclamation mark or a period. Using a question mark is probably the most common choice, but it is really up to the writer to use whatever punctuation matches best the intent of the rhetorical question.

Yahoo's styleguide, which I would not consider as a reference, gives some examples of such usage:

  • Can you believe it? I just bought that car, and it’s already scratched.
  • What kind of a man are you?
  • Boy, do I!
  • How can you possibly think that!
  • Would everyone please rise for the national anthem.
  • Why don’t you stop asking me questions already.
  • Why don’t you take a long walk off a short pier.

As for my personal style, I don't use rhetorical questions much, but when I do I end them with question marks.

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I think you're safer ending with a question mark unless you're overriding it with an exclamation mark. Those last three Yahoo examples all look like they need question marks to me. –  gpr Feb 15 '11 at 21:41
    
@gpr: I agree with you, and I convey this in the answer (or tried to). However, there is apparently alternative usages out there, which ought to be highlighted. –  F'x Feb 15 '11 at 21:42
    
The example, boy, do I! is out of place, not being a question of any kind. –  Brett Reynolds Apr 21 '12 at 12:40
    
I don't see how the last three are rhetorical questions either. The speaker is not asking if you would rise for the anthem in some hypothetical situation (none is even given). It's a different figure of speech. The last two are also not understood as asking questions. A rhetorical question is still interpreted as a question. It's just one for the hearer to contemplate rather than (overtly) answer. "Why don't you shut up?" is not asking the hearer to contemplate reasons for their not shutting up or supplying such reasons itself. It's a request or command, unlike "Do I look like an idiot?". –  Rachel Aug 23 '12 at 13:44

Rhetorical questions are written as any other question, and in English a sentence is never ended with a question mark and a period, even in the case the question is being quoted.

I have never seen a question mark followed by a period to mark the question as rhetorical. It is the context to make a question rhetorical.

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Why not google 'question mark' as I just did and you'll find that direct (implying, not all) questions require a question mark.

Also, according to the Oxford Dictionary question marks can be placed in brackets and be followed by a full stop behind a sentence without a direct question: I’m about to get started on the new project, which is apparently quite straightforward (?).

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I would define the last three sentences as colloquialisms, meaning they are not grammatically correct, but understood to be polite, imperative commands. My boss says that they are rhetorical questions, but he’s just being polite. When I write, “Can we prove it.” I leave the question mark off because I want proof but have to tone it down and avoid exclamations. Defining them as rhetorical questions only justifies the punctuation, grammatically. Technically, I believe it’s colloquial. I’m likely to continue ending my imperative questions with a period. If someone criticizes, well, then it’s rhetorical. Often well-defined colloquialisms become standard English anyway.

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Which 3 sentences? Colloquialisms can be grammatically correct. Colloquailsims need not be polite nor imperative. "Can we prove it" is clearly a rhetorical question, unless you want an answer. Defining them as a rhetorical question means knowning what rhetorical question means. Technically, it's not colloquial, as it uses no colloquialisms, uses standard English in both vocabulary and grammar, and is not a figurative idiom but one that can be understand by interpreting each word according to their normal meanings, and compounding those according to normal syntax. –  Jon Hanna Feb 14 '13 at 20:03

protected by RegDwigнt Oct 10 '13 at 15:26

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