This has probably been asked before but I can't find a search term that finds it.

Is the punctuation correct in the following sentence:

What, are you not hungry?

I could write it as two sentences:

What? Are you not hungry?

But that seems to indicate too long of a pause after "What?"

  • Some editors might frown ... correction: some mindless, useless, dumb-ass editors do in fact frown on it, but your first guess is correct. – Ricky Jan 30 '16 at 20:42
  • What you're asking about is not a sentence that begins with "what", but one that consists entirely of "what". – Hot Licks Jan 31 '16 at 0:07
  • I'd add that the editors @Ricky is talking about are the ones who have an actual preference, and are not merely enforcing their publication's style guide. If you are writing for a magazine or newspaper, check the style guide. No one cares if you spell it élite or elite, but a publication should pick one spelling and require it consistently. – user31341 Jan 31 '16 at 0:17

One could argue till the cows come home about something like this, because one is not dealing with a straightforward construction.

What is undoubtedly both a question and an exclamation, which is in response to a real or hypothetical previous statement (e.g. I don't want any dinner thank-you). It implies that you may not have heard the person correctly.

What could exist by itself as a rhetorical question. But the further question elaborates on why it has been asked, and poses a further, more detailed question. So my preference would be to punctuate the piece as two separate sentences. And after what I would probably put an exclamation mark.

So my suggestion is:

What! Are you not hungry?

  • For me what is a rhetorical question; and does not merit an exclamation mark. Also, it really needs to be in the contracted form. I don't believe I have ever said Are you not [adjective]. Only: Aren't you [adjective]. – Lambie Jan 31 '16 at 15:10
  • @Lambie That may be true of some people. But both forms are well within my own idiolect, and that of people with whom I converse. – WS2 Jan 31 '16 at 15:27
  • Ideolects do not grammar make....And I never said it was wrong at all. It's perfectly fine. That said, non-contracted forms in everyday conversations are usually used to make pointed remarks. – Lambie Jan 31 '16 at 22:28
  • @Lambie I could well imagine myself saying Are you not hungry? for no purpose other than that it sounded more elegant than Aren't you hungry?. Is it not satisfying to take pride in the language? – WS2 Jan 31 '16 at 22:42
  • Ok, what I am saying is that the greatest number will use the contraction. Uncontracted forms are for conscious emphasis unlike the contracted form which is what people usually just say. Just saying. It depends on context and the "scene" the OP is interested in creating...of course, I can say: "Are you not [not italicized] hungry? It almost shows surprise. That is fine. Great. Fantastic, But it is less usual. – Lambie Jan 31 '16 at 22:54

What? Are you not hungry? is supported only in two clauses. First you ask someone:


Then, for example you didn't understand it, you ask him/her again.

Are you not hungry?

In this way way we can write it. For the use of exclamation, you can write

What! Are you not hungry?

Example you are excited that you don't have to pay for bill because your friend is not hungry. So in an excited mood you'll say it like this:

What! Are you not hungry?


What - are you not hungry?

would be my preference.

  • Might we have some reason other than your personal preference? – deadrat Jan 31 '16 at 6:10
  • @deadrat Nothing technical, just being a cockney with nearly 60 years' experience of reading and writing the language. – Magoo Jan 31 '16 at 6:20
  • The dash or the comma both work just fine. No reason to downvote. – Jesse Williams Jan 31 '16 at 20:38

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