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How do you properly convey in writing a sentence where a question is asked and followed by a suggested answer? For example, the question "What are we having for dinner?" is asked, and the guess "lasagna?" is given. Which is grammatically correct:

What are we having for dinner? Lasagna?

What are we having for dinner, lasagna?

or something else.

I guess I should also ask, is it grammatically correct to say

What are we having for dinner — lasagna?

  • To me, all three versions look and sound fine. – F.E. Mar 19 '14 at 8:18
  • Anything that conveys the question intonation on both parts will do. The intonation is what determines the structure here. Double question marks, comma -- or dash -- will work. But English punctuation is a very dull sword; don't expect it to do a neat job. – John Lawler Mar 19 '14 at 15:56
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"What are we having for dinner? Lasagna?" - this is correct. The intonation on a question is different from declarative sentences. When speaking this out loud the intonation would make it clear that there are two questions. To describe this in text you have to therefore use two question marks.

"What are we having for dinner, lasagna?" - This might be ambiguous and sounds like you are asking a question to "lasagna" (there are all sorts of uncommon names out there) , similar to "What are we having for dinner, Mum?"

You can, of course, change the question to "We are having lasagna for dinner right?" (as per Jim's answer) or "Are we having lasagna for dinner?" or even, in some contexts, convert to a suggestion "would I love some lasagna today!"

  • Talking of ambiguity, Alan Plater once wrote a radio play where in one scene a member of a gang of criminals was having doubts about using guns in a job they were planning. The leader challenged him thus: "What's the matter with you, scruples?" Of course, the actor read it wrong, and intoned the line as if the guy's name was Scruples. And this was in the days of live radio, so they couldn't do another take. A good lesson. Punctuation counts. – Terpsichore Mar 19 '14 at 12:02
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You could ask what's known as a leading question. By definition, that's a question that suggests the answer.

Using your example, it might look like this:

We're having lasagna for dinner tonight, right?
You're planning to have lasagna for our dinner, right?
When will our lasagna dinner be ready?  

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Neither is correct. You could use.... "What are we having for dinner? Is it lasagna?" But if spoken, the "ungrammatical" version in your original question is quite common.

  • The severe omission which creates a question [or a statement] comprising a single word cannot be called incorrect. It's entirely dependent on the surrounding context, but the surrounding context is what makes the omission possible. – Andrew Leach Mar 19 '14 at 7:59
  • I assume by 'possible', you mean grammatically correct? Please name the sentence structure it is an example of or provide a reference. Much commonly used spoken language is grammatically incorrect. Perhaps you meant you are used to hearing it? So am I and I am comfortable with it, but grammatically incorrect means it is in violation of official rules of sentence structure. I'm being sincere, if you can cite a reference I would be interested. – Stew Mar 20 '14 at 5:05
  • Hey, that's not fair, haha, somebody edited it and changed the question... My answer is correct for the original question. A) What sounds best to the ear? B) What is the best way to write an ungrammatical spoken question (what this post NOW reads as), and C) What is the grammatically correct way to write this question? (original post, I'm pretty sure)... Are three entirely different things. My answer is the correct one for question C). If anybody disagrees, please provide references :) – Stew Mar 20 '14 at 5:21
  • I could ask you for the same thing: cite your "official rules of sentence structure". English has no "official rules" and any guide to grammar is exactly that. What's important is that it is understood: there are principles of punctuation to aid understanding of what is meant in a sentence; there is accepted spelling, again to aid understanding. The "rule" that every sentence must contain a verb is demonstrably wrong. Wrong! – Andrew Leach Mar 20 '14 at 7:00
  • Oh, and yes, edits happen. It wouldn't take much to say "Neither of the first two", though; and you could add something about the last option. – Andrew Leach Mar 20 '14 at 7:03

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