I want to know if this sentence needs a question mark to be grammatically correct:

"What was the secret, John was asked."

  • 4
    I the point of the sentence is to ask what the secret was that John was asked, you would remove the comma and replace the period with a question mark: What was the secret [that] John was asked? If the point of the sentence is relay a bit of a conversation in which someone asked John what the secret was—and if the writer wanted to use a passive construction for some reason, you could add change the comma to a question mark and add quotation marks around the question: "What was the secret?" John was asked. ... – Sven Yargs Nov 22 '18 at 22:27
  • 1
    ... If the point is merely to paraphrase the actual question asked of John, you could rephrase the sentence as a question-mark-less statement: John was asked what the secret was. – Sven Yargs Nov 22 '18 at 22:27
  • It certainly needs proper punctuation. – Hot Licks Dec 23 '18 at 1:24

Original: "What was the secret, John was asked." (bad grammar)

There shouldn't be any double-quotes. This is a statement, not a direct quote.

Context is needed:

=> Joe asked John, "What was the secret?" (direct question)

=> Pete asked Bob, "What was just said?" (direct question)

=> Bob replied, "John was asked what the secret was." (statement, reported speech, indirect question)


Antiquely, severely, one can write,

What was the secret? John was asked.

The question mark takes the place of the omitted comma.

Modern readers probably won't expect that, though. Even antiquely, it's a problem because John's name is capitalized.

I like the way you write it:

What was the secret, John was asked.

The stylistic logic is imperfect but, actually, it works.

Some others have suggested alternatives in the comments. As I said, I prefer yours.

If your context liked quotation marks (I assume from your question that it does not), then, of course,

"What was the secret?" John was asked.

And if you wished to try alternative word ordering,

"What," John was asked, "was the secret?"

In fact, that even almost works without the quote markes, doesn't it?

What, John was asked, was the secret?

But these later attempts stray from your question.

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