English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Consider the brief passage below:

There are two questions to be asked. Firstly, whether John was willing and able to do his job. Secondly, what tasks did John have to complete to satisfy his duty.

Does the last sentence (beginning with 'Secondly') require a question mark or does it correctly end with a period?

share|improve this question
As it is currently phrased, it requires a question mark. Rephrasing it as Secondly, what tasks John had to complete to satisfy his duty changes that. – Anonym Sep 1 '14 at 1:24
No, it does not require a question mark. The entire sentence after "Secondly," is just a noun phrase. And why did you not have the same question in the case of the first sentence? How's that different or an exception? – Kris Sep 1 '14 at 5:08
@Kris it's not true that the second sentence consists of only secondly and a noun phrase. a free relative clause does not have auxiliary inversion, which is seen in the op's example. e.g., you can say what you have done with my book is steal it, but not *what have you done with my book is steal it. – jlovegren Sep 2 '14 at 0:08
@jlovegren That example is not similar to the OP's. – Kris Sep 2 '14 at 4:43
@Kris if you please: You must write down two things: first, the capital of Syria. Second, what you ate for breakfast. putting in ...did you eat... in the second sentence is non-standard. – jlovegren Sep 2 '14 at 22:55
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Divide questions in English in to three basic groups:

  1. Polar (yes/no) questions
  2. Content questions where the questioned element is the subject
  3. Content questions where the questioned element is not the subject

Examples of direct questions of types 1--3.

  1. Did Thomas buy a dog?
  2. Who bought a dog?
  3. What did Thomas buy?

Examples of direct questions of types 1--3.

  1. I don't know whether Thomas bought a dog.
  2. I don't know who bought a dog.
  3. I don 't know what Thomas bought.

Direct questions of types 1 and 3 require do-support (if no other auxiliary is present). Indirect questions of type 1 use the special interrogative word whether. In written English you usually put a question mark at the end of a sentence containing a direct question. As one commenter suggests, reword the second sentence so that it has an indirect question and not a direct question.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.