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How should sentences that end with both a colon and a question mark be formed? Two examples are below, both questions, but one in which the colon presents a piece of information and the other in which it begins a list.

Is this the one you meant?: http://blah.com/somebody/blog/article/foobarbaz.gif

 

Do you have any of these symptoms?:
  •  Headache
  •  Nausea
  •  Dizziness



Obviously a question-mark—colon combination is no good, and at best, looks odd. Putting the question mark after the item(s) is no good either. Do they have to be rewritten in a more pointed way such as below or is there another option?

Is the one in the following picture the one you meant?

    http://blah.com/somebody/blog/article/foobarbaz.gif

 

Do you have any of the symptoms below?

  •  Headache
  •  Nausea
  •  Dizziness

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

The Chicago Manual of Style notes:

Many writers assume—wrongly—that a colon is always needed before a series or a list. [Section 6.65]

So dispense with the colon entirely:

Is this the one you meant?

Alternatively:

Is this the one you meant: http://blah.com/somebody/blog/article/foobarbaz.gif ?

Or:

Do you have any of the symptoms below?

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
share|improve this answer
    
I like the note about colon usage in terms of lists, but I don’t think it applies to the first case (introduction of a specific piece of related information). I already make a habit of putting URLs on a separate, indented line. – Synetech Dec 14 '11 at 20:43
    
I agree that it's clearer that way. I suggested the one-line alternative as perhaps the least bad way if space was tight. – Gnawme Dec 14 '11 at 20:46

Not one of my many books addresses it, but I have seen examples on the Internet (by self-proclaimed experts) that seem to settle the matter.

In short, when two punctuation marks are both appropriate, use the one that makes the sentence more clear:

She yelled, "Duck!" and we hit the ground.

The exclamation point replaced the comma, and the meaning is better served. Here is another case:

The report claimed that the employees "...engaged in industrial sabotage..." but I couldn't confirm it.

Again, the lost comma is not missed.

On the question of the colon and the question mark together, I have seen the same recommendation. Which of them is more essential to the meaning? Use that one.

But I can't find definitive answers in any "official" books on the matter.

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Writers are typically narcissistic and not amenable to constructive criticism, but speaking from the stance of an English major and experienced Editor, it is NOT okay to use both a question mark and semi-colon to end a passage.

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That aligns with what this website says: A question mark or exclamation point is sufficient for separation. Do not also use a colon. – J.R. Dec 25 '15 at 12:33

Or, you could simply do this.

Did you mean http://blah.com/somebody/blog/article/foobarbaz.gif?

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I thought of that but the question mark is displaced by a significant amount, especially with a longer URL. And it does not address a list. Did you mean this http://foobar.baz/blah/someone/site/search?query=something&width=1024&height=768‌​;q=5&otherstuff=somethingelse;flashvars=one%20other%25thing%226? – Synetech Jan 8 '12 at 2:07
    
It would go like this: Did you mean a, b or c, substituting in the URLs. This would be grammatically correct. So you could still structure the sentence the same way. – ncmathsadist Jan 8 '12 at 3:44
    
That’s fine with really short things, but it would be incredibly unwieldy and illegible with long things like URLs, but even with shorter things like words or phrases. – Synetech Jan 8 '12 at 6:44

I would not recommend using "Do you have any of the symptoms below?" It is awkward. There is nothing wrong with using a question mark followed by a colon. You might have just been looking at it for too long. Everything starts to look a little funny if you stare at it long enough.

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protected by Andrew Leach Dec 8 '15 at 7:42

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