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In other words: should it be “Guess what?” or “Guess what!”? Or does the correct usage depend on the context and intent of the speaker?

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7 Answers 7

up vote 4 down vote accepted

If "Guess what" is to be a complete sentence, it's unequivocally an imperative one. Logically, if not linguistically, the reply has to be a question itself…

Guess what.

What?

…unless the responder actually plans to guess.

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I think it can vary by speaker. My inclination would be to use "guess what!" when the speaker keeps on speaking, and "guess what?" when the speaker pauses to accept guesses, thus:

"I got something for you," Sue said brightly. Guess what?"

"A book? ... a donut? ... a chicken?" Fred guessed.

"No, silly! The keys you left at the restaurant!"

vs.

"Guess what!" Sally shouted as she ran into the room. "I made bail!"

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I have doubts that “guess what” is ever a question at all. If I expand “guess what” to “guess what I'm doing”, that wouldn't be a question, would it? Nor would simply “guess”. So why should a sentence of equivalent meaning be a question? Or should “guess what” be expanded to “Can you guess what I'm doing now?”. That seems like a big interpretive leap. –  Andrew Marshall Mar 3 '11 at 23:24
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For instance, isn‘t Sue telling the subject to guess what she did, rather than asking? –  Andrew Marshall Mar 3 '11 at 23:25
    
@Andrew Marshall, on the one hand I'm inclined to agree that it's not really a question per se, but on the other hand it is being used to invite a response (rather than to demand one), and so a question mark simply seems the most appropriate choice. –  Hellion Mar 3 '11 at 23:33
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I believe it should actually be

Guess "What?"!

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I am totally doing this from now on. –  tenfour Mar 4 '11 at 16:53
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I think it is a command rather than question. The speaker is forcing / telling the listener to guess correctly about the fact in their context of speach. Because he knows the fact and now he is putting a puzzle in excitement in front of listener to guess it right.. Guess what!

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Logically it seems that it is an imperative statement. But if you do a google search for "guess what" or a COCA search for "guess what" you'll see that it is quite frequently written as a question. In addition to the two cases mentioned by Hellion it is also used in other ways, such as

Guess What: Netflix Is Now Primarily A Digital Video Company

Google: Guess what, Apple, we've discovered the internet

In these examples it's neither an imperative nor a question.

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I know this question was posted a long time ago, but I feel the need to chime in.

In regards to Hellion's response: "Guess what" would never be punctuated with a question mark. My reason for saying that is because of the inflection. Listen to how statements and questions are said. A statement (such as "I am so happy.") starts high in tone and ends lower in tone. A question (such as "How are you doing?") starts lower and ends higher. Inflection always dictates how a sentence is punctuated. When someone says "Guess what", it never sounds like a question. It is a command; you are telling someone to do something.

Say a couple of short questions out loud, listen to the inflection, then say "Guess what" last and you will see what I'm talking about.

Which day?
How high?
What time?
Guess what.

I think a lot of people punctuate this sentence incorrectly for two reasons:

  1. The word guess implies that thought is required for the response.
  2. The word what is commonly used in questions (who, what, where, why, and how).

A good example as to why I think this is the case lies in another sentence that gets punctuated incorrectly: "I wonder what he is thinking." A lot of people would punctuate this with a question mark because "wonder" implies thought and the word "what" is being used. But, this is a statement. You are saying that you're doing something (wondering), not asking a question. Similarly, listen to the inflection in this sentence. It starts high and ends low—the opposite of how a question sounds.

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Actually, "guess what" can be written correctly as a question. For example, the following dialogue:

Eric is having conversation with Ashley. Ashley: "Hey! I just got my test score back!" Eric: "Oh, yeah, how'd you do?" Ashley: "Try to guess" Paul overhears conversation at this point and joins in "Guess what?" (as in "[I didn't hear the conversation before. Try to] guess what?)

Other than this type of situation, I believe it's punctuated with a period or an exclamation point.

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