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For example, I found the following sentence written by a native English speaker (UK) so I'm going to assume that he knows how to put it the right way, although I wouldn't use this form.

I now have a bit more time to fix bugs etc but I'm open to offers if anyone wants to help maintain this module with me?

Is it correct or is the question mark misused here?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 2 down vote accepted

In written speech this is a questionable usage. Nevertheless, when speaking, people frequently end declarative sentences with a rising intonation to invite the listener to consider the sentence as an invitation to agreement or action. One hears this kind of thing especially in the southern United States.

"Anyway, I had this Chrysler? It had a four-barrel carburetor?"

Here the speaker is making declarations about a car, but making them sound like questions so that the listener will respond (probably nodding or saying "uh-huh") in a way that indicates interest in and understanding of the story being related.

If your example sentence were spoken this way, listeners would likely interpret it as a request for help, not merely a statement of a condition. But if you write it, you should leave out the question mark.

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I'm quite late to the conversation, but I must protest the generalization "if you write it, you should leave out the question mark." The syntax is probably questionable for formal writing, but formal writing isn't the only writing. The example given appears to be an email, which most people agree are largely (though not always) informal. –  Hack Saw May 5 '11 at 21:46
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Steve Melnikoff's is the best analysis, but can be taken further.

I think with the 'quick text parsing' that is becoming a part of our language pragmatics given the 'texting'/'information overload' age, punctuation marks in written materials are changing their purpose. As Melnikoff point out, in the example you use the question mark is inviting a response. The reader can visually 'skim' right through e.g., an email, to get at what his interlocutor wants him to respond to. The question mark is in effect basically an abbreviation with respect to what would have been written twenty years ago, when more verbiage would need to be required to have the request not come off in writing as rude.

English in the twenty-first century (in a particular context, at any rate).

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This is something you see very often in spoken language.

As we talk, we are making a syntactic structure. It's common for syntactic structures to change, or be re-analyzed, as we go along. So in this case, "if anyone wants to help maintain this module with me?" is reanalyzed, on the fly, as "Does anyone want to help maintain this module with me?"

In careful writing, since readers can go back and check what you said previously, this sort of on the fly reanalysis is discouraged.

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I now have a bit more time to fix bugs etc but I'm open to offers if anyone wants to help maintain this module with me?

This sentence/question is different than a statement and different than the "up-talking" that happens when people occasionally (or all the #$! time) raise the pitch of their sentences and phrases. If the person said

I now have a bit more time to fix bugs etc but I'm open to offers if anyone wants to help maintain this module with me.

they are merely stating that they have time and are open to offers for help.

By raising the pitch at then end (spoken) or adding the question mark (written) they are implying a question:

Would anyone like to offer to help me?

I hear this type of usage commonly.

We will proceed with the next item on the agenda, unless there are any questions? no? Ok, moving along...

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While the sentence is not technically a question, the use of a question mark indicates that the speaker is inviting a response from others.

In that respect, the question mark conveys the speaker's meaning in a way that could not otherwise be indicated in writing without the use of additional words.

So I'd say that this use of the question mark is correct when recording informal speech like this - but formally, it should really be reserved for actual questions.

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I would go one step further and say that if it wasn't an actual, if only implied, question, then the writer wouldn't have used the question mark. –  aaronasterling Nov 26 '10 at 6:58
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