I have noticed that many users on this site start a question with I wonder if and then go on to finish with a question mark, presumably inflecting strangely at the end.

Is this an acceptable use of a question mark, or is it bad grammar?

Whence does it come?

  • 1
    This is what is known as an "indirect question"; a speech act that is intended to be interpreted as a question, but is shaped like some other kind of speech act, partly to ameliorate the imposition, and partly to express deference. There is a big literature about them, starting with Gordon and Lakoff 1971 Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 0:11
  • @JohnLawler Great, can you create an answer out of that, it seems it might answer the question fully. Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 17:18
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    Possible duplicate of What is the correct punctuation for an indirect question? Commented Dec 25, 2016 at 19:27
  • How is the sentence spoken? Punctuation primarily provides non-syntactic clues to how a sentence is to be spoken. A question mark implies that the sentence is spoken with the sort of rising intonation at the end that signals a question.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 25, 2016 at 20:01
  • Consider that "That's a horse?" may be a legitimate question (if, eg, the speaker was just shown a picture of a cow and was told it's a horse).
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 25, 2016 at 20:04

2 Answers 2


The Chicago Manual of Style, along with many other style guides and websites, says no:

6.68 Indirect questions
An indirect question never takes a question mark.

He wondered whether it was worth the risk.

But the example sentences at Oxford dictionary show that many people do place a question mark there. See Verb 1.1. Examples:

‘I wonder whether you have thought more about it?’

‘I've been considering my last question, and I wondered whether the church in the photograph is in Venice?’

But note that are just as many examples that don't have a question mark.

I would be surprised if people who use a question mark in such indirect questions actually use a rising intonation when saying the sentence.

  • I can see the first example (OD verb 1.1) with "wonder" and a high rising terminal, but I have doubts about the second sentence with "wondered". Commented Dec 25, 2016 at 19:49
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    I never would... Commented Dec 25, 2016 at 19:55

If is used to introduce a subordinate clause. So it is grammatical. You have subject = I, verb = wonder, and a subordinate clause, functioning as a direct object, introduced by the conjunction if. The whole sentence functioning as a question can be attributed to the verb wonder which indicates curiosity about something mixed with doubt.

Declarative sentences can be used as questions in the English language. See English Syntax and Argumentation Section 4.3.5 The Pragmatics of The Sentence Types

  • This seems good but I wonder if you have any references? (I felt dirty typing that.) Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 9:10
  • @BladorthinTheGrey what do you want a reference to? The first part is a grammatical analysis of the sentence into Subject + verb + Direct Object. Then an explanation of the "if" conjunction. After that some semantics. And at the end, a statement that about the use of declarative sentences. All of this is from syntax theory. Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 12:55
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    You can back up the claim that declarative sentences can be used as questions? Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 16:51
  • @BladorthinTheGrey I added a reference to a textbook on Syntactic Theory that supports this claim. I use that textbook when I need to brush up on syntax. Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 16:56
  • Thank you for your improvement. I still feel that converting a sentence such as an "I wonder if" into a question isn't grammatical. Obviously, like my comment above, they are intelligible, but are they commonly used - not just colloquially - to form questions? Your reference says that "You haven't closed the door?" is pragmatically a question (undeniable) but syntactically not. I would like to know whether it should then end with a question mark. Look at my last sentence, should that end in a question mark? It is pragmatically a sentence but syntactically not. Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 17:06

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