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I know how to punctuate a parenthesized question within a statement (doesn't everyone?).

I imagine this is the correct way to punctuate a question (where a statement is interposed)?

But what about the case where a full question is within parentheses, as well as outside?

Should I use just one question mark at the end (or punctuate some other way, perhaps)?


These aren't great examples as the parentheses could be removed in all cases except the first. A more real example is the situation I ran into with an actual work email:

Hi John, could you please help me get the account access described below (or help me route this request correctly so it can be fulfilled)?

  • Please, Wildcard, try to give at least one example of each case you'd like to consider… You might but the great majority of people do not know how to punctuate a parenthesized question within a statement. Doesn't everyone? Absolutely not. The great majority of people have no clue what you’re talking about, let alone how to handle it. Could you take that on board and re-phrase your Question? By the way, that would be with the later, not the latter – Robbie Goodwin Sep 8 '17 at 20:14
  • @RobbieGoodwin, I guess you're not a mathematician. The first two sentences in this post are self-exemplifying. – Wildcard Sep 8 '17 at 20:47
  • I guess you didn't think about that too clearly. If self-exemplifying meant something, how would the first two sentences here be self-exemplifying? … how to punctuate a parenthesized question within a statement (doesn't everyone?) might be self exemplifying. Does that give it meaning. Ask Joe Public. The correct way to punctuate a question (statement interposed) might be self exemplifying and that wouldn’t give it meaning. Ask Joe Public. Do you not see that even among pin-dancers, there are no cases where a full question is within parentheses, as well as outside? – Robbie Goodwin Sep 8 '17 at 21:36
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    Thanks, Wildcard and sorry: nothing about …could you help me get the access described below (or help me route this request correctly so it can be fulfilled)?, in that context, follows a clear rule. Everything there is a personal choice. To detail your researched reasons for or against a particular choice and ask for confirmation of your own conclusion might not be a proof-reading issue. If you don't see punctuating a double question with the latter in parentheses as too obscure then please, for clarity, rephrase it at least two ways and watch what happens… – Robbie Goodwin Sep 8 '17 at 22:21
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    I'd punctuate it just as you have, mainly because I've never seen ?)? but also because the text inside the parentheses is not an independent clause. ...or help me route this request correctly so it can be fulfilled is only a question in the context of the entire sentence. But that's just what I'd do, as I don't think the Chicago Manual of Style has a like example. – AmE speaker Oct 29 '17 at 1:18
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The purpose of punctuation is to clarify what goes with what, where independent ideas begin and end, how elements in a series are to be understood, who said what, and more. But if punctuation only creates questions about what the writer has in mind, it isn't serving any useful purpose. That, I think, is the problem at the core of your question.

You start with a sentence that contains a question enclosed in parentheses, and you want to place that parenthetical question at the end of a sentence that asks a question of its own. And then you want to know where to put the question mark or marks.

This, I think, is the wrong way to approach a question about punctuation. The central question about punctuation that a writer should try to answer is, How do I punctuate these words so that my meaning is immediately clear to the reader? And in the case of your example wording, the answer is, First get rid of the parentheses, and then figure out the best punctuation to use.

In my view the simplest way to make the meaning of the example wording clear is by adding an em dash before the start of what had been the parenthetical phrase:

Hi, John. Could you please help me get the account access described below—or help me route this request correctly so it can be fulfilled?

The em dash signals that you are breaking away from the initial question to ask a different but related question. The result is a straightforward presentation of the writer's request to John that enables it to proceed without resorting to double question marks, unnecessary parentheses, or other distractingly elaborate punctuation.

A less forceful approach would be to replace the em dash with a comma:

Hi, John. Could you please help me get the account access described below, or help me route this request correctly so it can be fulfilled?

This punctuation seems a bit mild to me, given the rather sharp shift in the question that the wording implies, but some writers prefer commas to stronger punctuation marks. Ultimately, there is plenty of room for writers to differ in their punctuation preferences without adopting a form of punctuation that supplants the words and their meaning as the center of attention.

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