I am writing a story where my character says something like, "It's been what? Twenty-five years? since I've seen you".

Now, how do I properly punctuate this in my sentence?

Do I use ellipses or semicolons or is my initial sentence grammatically correct?

What if I use a more formal, non-spoken sentence? How would the punctuation differ?

  • They are separate sentences to convey a single idea. "It's been, what?" "Twenty-five years?" "Since I've seen you?" "What if I use a more formal, non-spoken sentence?" -- is another question for another post another day. – Kris May 11 '18 at 10:19
  • See also Writing – Kris May 11 '18 at 10:19
  • Punctuation aside, that's not a rhetorical question, which is "a question not intended to require an answer." The other person in that conversation could easily think that they should answer. Examples of actual rhetorical questions are, I'm alive aren't I? and Is the Pope Catholic? – Jason Bassford May 12 '18 at 4:32

I'd punctuate it as:

"It's been, what, twenty-five years since I've seen you?".

I don't think the "what" is, in itself, a question here. As dicitonary.reference.com says, it's an interjection:


  1. (used in exclamatory expressions, often followed by a question):

What, no salt?

Also the "twenty five years" isn't a question on it's own either. What we have is a statement posed as question: "It's been twenty-five years since I've seen you?" with the interjection "what" inserted in the middle.

To mark the pauses in speech either side of what, I'd use commas.

  • Yes, these are best treated as parentheticals. I'd normally prefer the more heavy-duty dash as separator here to indicate more substantial pauses, but three dashes would be unsightly. I might go for dash-comma-dash. – Edwin Ashworth May 11 '18 at 10:33

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