My son, who is in fourth grade, wrote the following sentence in response to a story he'd read: "Another question I had was why were people swimming with dolphins." His teacher gave him no credit for this sentence. She contended that the sentence must conclude with a question mark. I believe that the sentence represents a declaration and not a question, and that the concluding period is appropriate and correct. Would someone kindly help?
marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt♦ Oct 2 '12 at 13:51
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I contend that the sentence needs slightly more editing than just the punctuation mark at the end.
Reword slightly, to leave the sentence as a declaration:
Avoid changing words, but make it clearer what the question was:
The sentence your son wrote contains an embedded question:
that would end with a question mark were it written like this:
Perhaps the teacher wanted one of those sentences, or perhaps she wanted the sentence to read thus:
The latter is an indirect question in normal indirect question word order. What your son wrote is also an acceptable (to me, at least, in informal spoken and written English) indirect question written in normal WH-question word order, which is probably what made it appear to the teacher that the entire sentence is a direct question. Either way it's written, a question mark is incorrect because the question is a subordinate clause in a longer declarative sentence.
This seems wrong to me: it's incorrectly punctuated (the "?" is wrong). It's best to change the word order.
Another link to examples of embedded questions is this one.
The relevant information is this:
Notice, however, that in the example with the copyeditor, the sentence is declared to be a question. In your son's sentence, a declarative sentence, he is merely informing the reader that he had a question. I think the teacher should have told your son that changing the word order would have made his sentence perfectly grammatical instead of ambiguous and questionable. Look at these two examples:
The first two are indirect questions and the second two are direct questions expressed as dialog in the first and as a direct question in a sentence declared to be a question in the second. The word order is different. The first two take no question mark, but the second two do. English is a word-order language. Change the word order, and the rules change.
In any case, I find the teacher's response too simplistic and dictatorial. It's not as black-and-white as her statement makes it seem. She offers no explanations of how your son could have written the sentence so that it wouldn't need a question mark, or why she believes that it's a question rather than a declarative statement. In other words, she wasn't teaching anybody anything, only demanding that she be obeyed because she knows best.
Depending upon the overall writing style of the essay, You child's may find it the best to avoid tripling the past-tense participles ("had", "was", and "were").
...If you do not reword with the quoted section, as many people have presented.