My question is: is there flexibility in how one can punctuate the phrase "Why not?"

The answer may seem obvious at first...it is a question after all. However, it's also a common idiom, and I am wondering if that offers a choice in how it's punctuated. I became curious about this after seeing dictionaries, including Cambridge and Collins, using the phrase in example sentences sans the question mark:

"Do you want Italian food tonight?" "Sure, why not."


I said we were, too, so he said why not let him take us to dinner somewhere and then all come together.

The second example sounds especially wrong, and as if it's missing quotation marks. Of course, most dictionary examples of the phrase in a sentence included question marks. So are the provided examples above errors?

Edit: The first comment suggesting this is a possible duplicate links to a statement, not a question.

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    @Bread - I don't think the example "question" counts as a question in what you've linked to. "Maybe you could be a security guard there and enforce whatever the WalMart policy is at that location," is a statement. It also includes no idioms, which is at the heart of this question -- if the fact that it's an idiom/common phrase has any bearing on punctuation choice. Apr 29 '18 at 2:00
  • I apologize for that. There are several questions that cover the punctuation of rhetorical questions. This one I hope is more accurately representative of the theme you have going here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/12760/…
    – Bread
    Apr 29 '18 at 2:05
  • @Bread - That one indeed answers my question. Thank you. Apr 29 '18 at 2:07
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    I think you're right to be sniffy at this Yahoo guide. There are Questions (Aren't there?)and Exclamations(What the devil!) and periphrastic imperatives (Would you mind shutting the door), and Rhetorical questions (Whatever will he think of next?) all jumbled up.
    – Hugh
    Apr 29 '18 at 4:57
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    Perhaps we should keep this one open to collect better sourced answers and to cover the punctuation of the stream-of-consciousness example.
    – Hugh
    Apr 29 '18 at 5:09

Yes, there's flexibility. Why not.


As this is an idiom, the punctuation depends entirely upon how the speaker is pronouncing it.

"Would you like an orange?" I asked her. "Sure, why not?" she said.

This implies that she raised the intonation on the word not and pronounced the sentence as an actual question.

"Would you like an orange?" I asked her. "Sure, why not." she said.

This implies that she did not raise the intonation on the word not and pronounced the sentence like a declarative statement.

In other words, punctuate it to match the pronunciation.

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