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In The Picture of Dorian Gray, I came across the following passage, spoken by Basil Hallward:

There is nothing that art cannot express, and I know that the work I have done since I met Dorian Gray is good work, is the best work of my life. But in some curious way — I wonder will you understand me? — his personality has suggested to me an entirely new manner in art, an entirely new mode of style.

I fail to understand the lack of a comma separating I wonder and will you understand me. Doesn't it make it sound somewhat awkward? Or is it part of Wilde's style? Or perhaps simply a printing error, which survived through successive editions?

Googling the sentence only returns pages quoting The Picture of Dorian Gray, hence bringing little information.

Can someone explain this to me?

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Did you transcribe it from a printed book, or took it from an electronic version of the book? – RiMMER May 19 '11 at 19:01
Googling "I wonder if you understand me" returns many results without any commas and I think has similar structure. comma should be used when the person is asked someone: "I wonder, will you understand me?" but normally "i wonder will you understand me" sounds good to me! – user8568 May 19 '11 at 20:03
@Boob: I think that the difference here is that the question clause, in your example, is introduced by if, making it an indirect question, similar to I wonder if you will understand me. On the other hand, my example in the present tense would probably sound like I wonder do you understand me, which without a question mark does sound strange, doesn't it? =) – Clément May 19 '11 at 20:59
@Clément: The answer you've accepted is exactly what i said, seems here the speaker was sure about the answer , even though it has a question mark! – user8568 May 19 '11 at 21:04
@Boob: He isn't sure at all of the answer, and instead genuinely wondering, I think (at least that's my understanding of the book ;). I've added details under you answer; thanks for your time! – Clément May 19 '11 at 21:14
up vote 10 down vote accepted

This is a case where punctuation conventions have changed since Wilde’s time.

In standard modern prose, it does indeed require a comma. Certain forms of phrase can come after wonder without a comma:

I wonder whether it will rain today?

I wonder where my water buffalo is?

However, if the phrase after wonder is a standalone question, a comma is required:

I wonder, will it rain today?

I wonder, where is my water buffalo?

In Wilde’s time, though, it was quite usual to write this latter form without a comma.

Browsing Google books results for "I wonder will you" corroborates this: the 19th-century hits tend to lack commas, but examples from the mid-20th-century on almost all have the comma (except for a few in poems with other non-standard punctuation).

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Thanks for your explanation! I added extra details under Ben Hocking's answer. – Clément May 19 '11 at 21:10
+1 On a side note, the question marks in the first two sentences are a bit informal: a more formal style would have a period there. (And I just saw your water buffalo watering Kosmonaut's rose bed: better do something about it...) – Cerberus May 20 '11 at 1:14

The phrase will you understand me is what he is wondering, hence no comma is needed. That phrase serves as the direct object of the clause "I wonder will you understand me?" The question mark does muddy the water somewhat.

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"The phrase will you understand me is what he is wondering" -- then shouldn't it be in quotes? I.e.: I wonder, "Will you understand me?" – Matthew Read May 19 '11 at 19:19
@Matthew Read: I wouldn't think it should be in quotes. He's not quoting anyone. (Not that this is the only reason to put something in quotes, but I can't think of any reason why that phrase should be in quotes.) – Ben Hocking May 19 '11 at 19:44
What troubles me here is that (by today's standards), Wilde seems to be using a direct question (one such as Will you understand me?) where an indirect one would be expected (I wonder if you will understand me). Consider for example the difference between I asked when his train would reach the station and When will his train reach the station?, the former being indirect and the latter, direct. – Clément May 19 '11 at 21:06
(contd) Introducing a direct question usually requires, I believe, a separation of some kind, usually punctuation; for example you could write I asked: when will his train reached the station? as a replacement for the previous example. Quotes, as Matthew suggested, would be another possibility to introduce such a direct question. What troubled me was the lack of such an separation between the introductory clause, I wonder, and the direct question, Will you understand me =) – Clément May 19 '11 at 21:09
@Clément: I think you're losing sight of the fact that the purpose of punctuation is to improve readability, not to comply with rules. Many if not most changes in common practice over recent decades have led to less punctuation marks being used. Both quote marks and commas occur less in later writing, but PPL has correctly picked up on this one as bucking the trend. – FumbleFingers May 20 '11 at 0:35

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