Is it ever okay to follow a question mark with a comma or semi-colon? For example, would any of the following be valid?

The main questions addressed in the literature are: who said it?, what does it mean?, and does it all make sense?


The main questions addressed in the literature are, (i) who said it?; (ii) what does it mean?; and (iii) does it all make sense?


The main questions addressed in the literature are, "who said it?", "what does it mean?", and "does it all make sense?"

  • 2
    I'd favour the last option, but with each question capitalized. This may be a matter of style rather than language though. Have you looked at any style guides with respect to this? Sep 19, 2016 at 15:40
  • In most style guides I've been exposed to, you wouldn't use the question marks at all. You are writing a statement and you already mentioned the following phrases are questions. It's just as if you wrote: "Are you sure," he asked. "He asked" is a statement, even though "he" asked a question.
    – VampDuc
    Sep 19, 2016 at 16:06
  • @VampDuc, but the "Are you sure" part is usually followed by a question mark, not a comma.
    – vpn
    Sep 19, 2016 at 16:28
  • @vanderpn Upon further research: It depends on the style guide you are using. I was taught as I said.
    – VampDuc
    Sep 19, 2016 at 16:40

2 Answers 2


Punctuation is a matter of style, and as such you should be guided by your manual of style, either the one you've chosen or the one thrust upon you. I use the Chicago Manual of Style, which advises the following:

  1. Do not place rhetorical or hypothetical questions in quotes.
  2. When two consecutive marks coincide, retain only the stronger (except in cases not applicable here, which involve quotation marks, dashes, parentheses, and brackets).
  3. An initial capital for such questions is the author's choice, but generally, "the more formal the question, the more usual" the capital
  4. Do not use a colon before a list that serves as a complement or object.

This leaves you with

The main questions addressed in the literature are who said it? what does it mean? and does it all make sense?

  • I don't have a copy of CMoS at hand. Does it list these points as numbered bullet points similar to the way you presented it? If so, that would be my preferred method. The main etc. 1. Who said it? etc.
    – puppetsock
    Jan 31, 2020 at 17:24

The last explanation here is the most to the point: go by a manual of style. However, the example is an incorrect rendering of the Chicago manual. First, the answer to your question is "no"--with the exception of the hyphen (as you see here, a quotation mark followed by a hyphen). Second, since the sentence which has the questions within it is not a question, it should not end with a question mark. Third, you do not need to have the question marks within the sentence, because we are told they are questions and the first words contain who, what, and does. Thus the sentence should be written as follows:

The main questions addressed in the literature are who said it, what does it mean, and does it all make sense.

Always keep in mind whether your (bracketing) sentence is a question or a statement. That rules your choice of the final punctuation mark. For basic rules in a small book which is well respected for many years now, see: Strunk and White. Some things may have changed but the logic of grammar remains the same.

  • Roger, just a word to the wise: Strunk and White are anything but well-respected in serious linguistic circles.
    – Marthaª
    Jan 31, 2020 at 16:45
  • Martha, please notice that I said "basic" rules--for those not familiar with them--and not a substitute for a manual of style. I used that edition many years ago when starting (I'm a retired English teacher (lit and composition) and appreciated its simple instructions, although some have changed since. Style always does. I don't see any comments from you about the advice I gave. Is that because you can't pick on that as you did the other? Please post something useful.
    – Roger C
    Feb 2, 2020 at 5:57
  • You literally described Strunk and White as "well respected for many years now", which in my experience is not an accurate statement. I wasn't attacking your answer, or you; I was merely pointing out that this small tidbit is contrary to my experience. You're perfectly within your rights to recommend S&W; just don't describe it as well-respected, because it's not.
    – Marthaª
    Feb 3, 2020 at 1:55

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