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Punctuation for rhetorical tag questions.

 
 
Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 05:51 pm
This came up in another thread... I couldn't find a definitive answer.

I wrote this sentence-- intending it as a dismissive rhetorical question.

"You don't read much, do you."

My grammatical question is about the final period.

Since this is a rhetorical question (i.e. I don't expect an answer) I believe that the period is appropriate. The recipient of my sarcasm claims that a question mark is required (since this is, after all, in the form of a question).

There is a difference in feeling between my sentence and non rhetorical questions like "that's not too expensive, is it?".

I googled this, and found statements that "rhetorical questions can end in a question mark, a period or an explanation point". I also found lot's of examples of tag questions ending in a question mark.

But I didn't find any authoritative answer to whether my use of a period was correct or not.

There are grammar experts here who can provide an authoritative answer, aren't there?
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parados
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 06:13 pm
It seems most authoritative sources I can find on line say it is perfecty OK to not use a question mark and some say it should not have a question mark.

http://www.wikihow.com/Use-Question-Marks-Correctly
which cites the book Puncuation Pointers

http://www.nyu.edu/classes/copyXediting/Punctuation.html
based on "History of puncuation."

My standard rule of thumb is to speak the sentence. A question would go up at the end. If it doesn't go up and instead goes down then it creates more sarcasm. The period makes it what it is, a put down. But then someone that doesn't read much wouldn't know about the colloquial use of language in the written word, would they.
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ebrown p
 
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Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 06:19 pm
I like the "speak the sentence" rule. As I thought more, I came up with the following two examples

- George Bush isn't very smart, is he.
- George Bush isn't going to invade Iran, is he?

I say these two sentences very differently. In the second sentence the tone of my voice rises to indicate doubt. In the first sentence I expect agreement of a certainty.
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Letty
 
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Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 06:30 pm
ebrown, that's the only part of the English language that has an Oriental flair. The inflection of the voice carries the import, doesn't it? Razz
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Mame
 
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Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 06:47 pm
I dunno - I get where you're coming from but it's a question regardless of whether you expect an answer so I'd put the question mark in there. I mean, it's technically not a statement. You're not saying "George Bush sure is stupid", you're asking if the other person agrees with you, are you not?
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Roberta
 
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Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 07:05 pm
I'm with Mame on this. It's a question whether you say it like a question or not.

I did a bit of research on this. I was able to find a definitive answer in only one place: The Gregg Reference Manual, which is a very helpful, practical guide for style, puncutation, and grammar issues. What does it say? Use the question mark.
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parados
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 07:22 pm
Roberta wrote:
I'm with Mame on this. It's a question whether you say it like a question or not. In fact how you say it doesn't really count when you're writing because the reader has no idea how you would say it.

I did a bit of research on this. I was able to find a definitive answer in only one place: The Gregg Reference Manual, which is a very helpful, practical guide for style, puncutation, and grammar issues. What does it say? Use the question mark.

But you see, that is the point of punctuation. It is to help figure out how it is intended.

"You're American, aren't you?"

is quite different from

"You're American, aren't you."

The use of the period may be colloquial but it gives meaning.
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SULLYFISH66
 
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Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 08:50 pm
You're not following me on this. i

s different than

You're not followng me on this, are you?

Sorry, it was a statement AND then, you questioned him/her.

I vote for the question mark.
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ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 09:05 pm
I found several websites that had a rule similar to this one....

Quote:

Use a period to end a rhetorical question.

14. What's the point of going on.


Source: NYU English handout

A similar UT at Dallas handout gives the example "Why wouldn't he want it."

Some that say it more vaguely... as in the wikipedia article..

The Wikipedia article on Rhetorical Question has the following section...

Quote:

A rhetorical question usually ends in a question mark (?), but occasionally may end with an exclamation mark (!) or even a full stop (.) according to some writing style guides.[citation needed] For example:

* "What's the point of going on."
* "Isn't that ironic!"

In the 1580s, English printer Henry Denham invented a "rhetorical question mark" for use at the end of a rhetorical question; however, it died out of use in the 1600s. It was the reverse of an ordinary question mark, so that instead of the main opening pointing back into the sentence, it opened away from it.

Some have adapted the question mark into various irony marks, but these are very rarely seen.


I think the irony mark is a good idea.
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ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 09:11 pm
SULLYFISH66 wrote:
You're not following me on this. i

s different than

You're not followng me on this, are you?

Sorry, it was a statement AND then, you questioned him/her.

I vote for the question mark.


I am saying that

You're not following me on this, are you?

is different than

You're not following me on this, are you.

In the first example I raise the tone of my voice indicating a real question. In this case I am probably trying to be helpful.

In the second example I keep my voice flat (or maybe depress it a bit at the end). This would indicate a certain resignation to the fact you aren't going to get it and perhaps condescension.

I certainly can distinguish between two different sentiments by my voice inflection.

When I write (I can't use voice inflection) I would like to indicate my meaning with punctuation.
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ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 09:13 pm
Roberta, I don't have access to the Gregg Reference Manual.

Could you look up specifically under what circumstances (if any) you can use a period or an exclamation mark for a rhetorical question?

I would like to know if Gregg agrees with the other online sources.
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Roberta
 
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Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 11:00 pm
Gregg states that end punctuation for a rhetorical question is either a question mark or an exclamation point. The exclamation point is for special emphasis.
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ebrown p
 
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Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 11:52 pm
Roberta wrote:
Gregg states that end punctuation for a rhetorical question is either a question mark or an exclamation point. The exclamation point is for special emphasis.


Isn't that just perfect!
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Roberta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 15 Jan, 2008 12:17 am
I'm starting to waffle on this. Reread this thread and find situations in which a question mark just doesn't seem right.

If you've found sources that support a period rather than a question mark, why look further? You've found what you need.

I, on the other hand, am considering contacting the author of the Gregg manual to open a discussion on this. (He's an old friend.)
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JTT
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Jan, 2008 06:14 pm
I'd say, Mr Brown, that since punctuation is meant to make writing, [this is actually a form of speech] more meaningful/exact, then a question mark used in such a situation actually tends to mislead.

Definitely, no ? mark!
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ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Jan, 2008 06:24 pm
Quote:

f you've found sources that support a period rather than a question mark, why look further? You've found what you need.


Because it is interesting, no?

I use this construct (rhetorical tag questions) from time to time and use a period naturally. I never thought about it until I was challenged.

I was surprised that it was so hard to find a rule, or any examples, in my first attempt to look for them.

I think it is a useful construct.

I am still interested to hear what your friend has to say on the topic.
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Mame
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Jan, 2008 07:04 pm
Maybe there's no definitive answer and it's just intuitive. For there to not be a question mark at the end of any sentence just feels wrong, for whatever reason.

The point of the question is irrelevant (rhetorical or not). It's a question and deserves a question mark. Your inflection doesn't change, so why would your punctuation? (I just tried it out and my inflection was the same).

You are asking for agreement, not making a statement. Whether you're not really asking for agreement, is not the point. You're still phrasing and inflecting it as a question.

JMO.

(Then again, I might be tone deaf and don't hear the inflections as accurately as others).
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parados
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Jan, 2008 08:01 pm
Mame wrote:
Maybe there's no definitive answer and it's just intuitive. For there to not be a question mark at the end of any sentence just feels wrong, for whatever reason.

The point of the question is irrelevant (rhetorical or not). It's a question and deserves a question mark. Your inflection doesn't change, so why would your punctuation? (I just tried it out and my inflection was the same).

You are asking for agreement, not making a statement. Whether you're not really asking for agreement, is not the point. You're still phrasing and inflecting it as a question.

JMO.

(Then again, I might be tone deaf and don't hear the inflections as accurately as others).


But the inflection does change -

Your Canadian, eh. (By the arrogant guy from south of your border.)

vs a question by a fellow Canadian

You're Canadian, eh?

Even you have to be able to hear the difference in the way those 2 are written.
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Mame
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Jan, 2008 08:16 pm
I think I am not paying enough attention, perhaps. What I hear doesn't sound significantly different, or different enough for me not to know they're both questions. I think the Queen of this is dlowan, so she's the one to ask.
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kickycan
 
  1  
Reply Thu 17 Jan, 2008 09:01 pm
I agree with Parados and ebrown. The only place it would be "wrong" is in a grammar textbook. Language and communication are not completely restricted by punctuation. The point is to communicate in the most effective manner, after all. If the point were to be technically "correct," then maybe I could see it differently. But it isn't. So there.
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