Suppose I have the sentence:

"All apples are green."

Although it is not a true statement, clearly it is a declarative sentence. Can any declarative sentence like this be made into an interrogative sentence (a question) merely by replacing the period with a question mark?

The reason I ask is because the typical word order for such a question would be:

"Are all apples green?"

Notice that the verb has been moved to the beginning of the sentence. This is the way most of us would word the sentence when phrasing it as a question.


Appending a question mark to a declarative sentence results in a valid sentence?



(This is just to elaborate and provide some examples. I stand by the assertion above. Here's why.)

sentence [ˈsɛntəns]
1. (Linguistics) a sequence of words capable of standing alone to make an assertion, ask a question, or give a command, usually consisting of a subject and a predicate containing a finite verb
[Collins English Dictionary, unabridged]

A valid sentence, then, need only fulfill one of the requirements listed above. Although we tend to think of sentences the way we were taught to in grammar school (i.e., involving at least a subject and a predicate, blah blah) a sentence doesn't have to be defined so narrowly. The following are all valid sentences:

Joe: Going to the mall?
Tom: Yes.
Joe: Really?
Tom: No, not really. Just messing with you.
Joe: Oh. You bastard.
Tom: I'm being a bastard?
Joe: Well, if the shoe fits ...
Tom: The shoe fits?
Joe: It doesn't?
Tom: Well, maybe.
Joe: Maybe?
Tom: All right.
Joe: So. The shoe fits?
Tom: Yeah.

Notice that peppered in the dialogue are declarative sentences expressed as questions. Sometimes they are used to cast doubt on the assertion, but in Joe's final line it is used as a request for affirmation.

  • Sometimes? (Now padding my comment to 15 character minimum.) – Gnawme Jan 25 '12 at 22:58
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    @FumbleFingers I tried it with every sentence of Jabberwocky ('Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe?) It's valid (per the OP's question), but is it truly interrogative? Then again, teenage girls are notorious for turning all declaratives into interrogatives, so my quest may be doomed. – Gnawme Jan 25 '12 at 23:37
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    @Gnawme: There's inherent ambiguity if you "questionise" Jabberwocky like that! On the one hand, someone might be contesting the assertion that it really did happen that way (maybe it was actually much later in the day than brillig, maybe it wasn't even toves at all, etc.) On the other hand, the question mark might simply stand for "wtf does all this mean?" – FumbleFingers Jan 25 '12 at 23:49
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    My feeling is that changing the punctuation without also changing the word order might result in a "valid" sentence (for some definition of "valid"), but it very rarely results in a valid question. A declarative sentence with a question mark at the end is merely a statement that you're not sure about. – Marthaª Jan 26 '12 at 15:27
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    @Marthaª: You're sure about that? – Robusto Jan 26 '12 at 15:57

No. The sentence would not (normally) be properly constructed to be a question. You must alter the word order and typically add some sort of interrogative word like "what" or "who".

It is fairly common in English to add a question mark to a declarative statement to express doubt as to its accuracy. Like:

Bob: All Ruritanians are lazy.
Al: Really? All Ruritanians are lazy?

I'd say this is grammatically incorrect but may be rhetorically effective.

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    I'm not sure what it means to say that something is grammatically incorrect when it's something native speakers do say and it seems perfectly natural in spoken or written form. Is there some accepted rule it violates? – David Schwartz Jan 26 '12 at 7:48
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    Surely there are many things that native speakers routinely say that are grammatically incorrect. For example, sentence fragments. Like if I said, "For example, sentence fragments". You know what I mean, but it is not a complete sentence because it has no verb. In this case, it violates the rule of using a question mark to end a sentence that is not a question. Punctuation must be consistent with the words in a sentence. "This, is! -- a grammatically: in?correct sentence;." – Jay Jan 26 '12 at 16:31
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    Sentence fragments are not grammatically incorrect. They're just not correct sentences. There is no rule that one must speak in sentences. As for it violating the rule of using a question mark to end a sentence that is not a question, it is a question. I agree that if it was not a question, it would be incorrect. "All Ruritanians are lazy" is a question in this context. It has an implied "Do you really claim" or "Do you expect me to believe" at the beginning of it, just as if those words appeared there. – David Schwartz Jan 26 '12 at 21:43
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    @DavidSchwartz: There is no law that one must write in complete sentences in the sense that you will be jailed for not doing so. There is no rule that you must write grammatically correct sentences even in the sense that you will not be understood if you do not. But "the sentence was more effective when I ignored the rules" is not the same as "the sentence conformed to the rules". It is certainly not the same as "there are no rules". To say, "it would be right if you added these words" implies that it is not right without those words. – Jay Jan 26 '12 at 22:17
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    @Jay, can you find any documentation that there is such a rule? If not, it seems that your answer is unsupportable. After all, grammar is a description of how native speakers speak and write. Since native speakers clearly both say and write such questions, it seems dubious to label them as ungrammatical. – user16269 Feb 22 '12 at 7:50

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