Not all questions start with Wh- words, so why don't we start a question with a question mark to make it more obvious that it is actually a question?

For instance, when I'm reading a book which has a long interrogative sentence at the bottom of the right-hand page, it often isn't until I turn to the next page that I realize it is a question.

Not that this represents too much of a problem, but from a beginner's perspective it must make it harder to interpret the words of the sentence in the correct context.

Similarly, why don't we start exclamatory sentences with an exclamation mark?

I know this is a trivial question, but I'm wondering whether some kind of historical or colonial/imperial decision might explain the absence of these marks in the situations I describe.

P.S. I am a student programmer, so pardon my ignorance / funniness

closed as primarily opinion-based by RegDwigнt Mar 16 '15 at 10:40

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    ¿Did you know that in some languages, they do? ¡It’s really true! – tchrist Mar 16 '15 at 4:59
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    It might not be as useful in English because a large fraction of questions begin with a wh- word. – curiousdannii Mar 16 '15 at 5:00
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    This seems like a peeve, not a real question about punctuation. Many languages have no beginning punctuation; many languages do. English doesn't. It's certainly not by Imperial decree, so it must be historic. For the history, you might turn to the study of medieval manuscripts. – anongoodnurse Mar 16 '15 at 5:04
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    @DavidGarner the original poster is the guy in the shaded box. – Mari-Lou A Mar 16 '15 at 9:41
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    @RegDwigнt, Medica, There are a number of factual practical reasons. Languages that use question marks at both ends have features in common. So do languages that don't. There are also historical reasons too that are well known. The potential answers to this question might be multi-factorial, but they will not just be opinions. In fact the idea that this question is opinion base is opinion based and not based on any proper consideration of the question! The question highlights some useful and interesting facts about English. – Araucaria Mar 16 '15 at 11:08

The cases where a question sentence in English does not begin with an auxiliary verb (e.g. do, be); a modal (e.g. can, might, will, would) or a wh- word (e.g. what, when, why) are relatively few and far between.

Often the first word is a good indicator as to whether the sentence is going to be interrogative, unlike Italian where questions can look exactly the same as affirmative sentences. In Italian it is only the eroteme that marks or signals to the reader the phrase is a question.

Sei stanco -->You are tired
Sei stanco? --> Are you tired? (note the Subject–auxiliary inversion )

Question words also exist but in Italian there is only one word for why and because

Perché sei stanco? --> Why are you tired?
Perché è tardi! --> Because it's late!

However, I never hear of any Italian speaker or learner asking why there aren't two question/exclamation signs to mark a sentence.

On the history of the question mark/ereteme Wikipedia tells us:

Lynne Truss attributes an early form of the modern question mark in western language to Alcuin of York. Truss describes the punctus interrogativus of the late 8th century as "a lightning flash, striking from right to left" [...] According to a 2011 discovery by a Cambridge manuscript expert, Syriac was the first language to use a punctuation mark to indicate an interrogative sentence. The Syriac question mark has the form of a vertical double dot

There's no mention of the English language ever having two question or exclamation marks in its history.

  • TIL – that unlike Spanish and Portuguese, Italian does not distinguish the interrogative and conjunctive perché’s. Interesting. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 16 '15 at 9:35
  • @MariLouA great insights & research, admirable :) – RinkyPinku Mar 16 '15 at 12:07
  • @user4453945 my pleasure, I'm glad my small effort helped you :) – Mari-Lou A Mar 16 '15 at 12:08
  • Thank goodness you got in an answer before this good question was closed. (PS one of you +1's was from me) – Araucaria Mar 16 '15 at 19:30
  • @Araucaria thank you! Why not write a post on meta asking for it to be reopened? I answered because I saw the post received three upvotes, and so I thought it really must be a question that people have asked themselves. – Mari-Lou A Mar 16 '15 at 19:35

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