Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Questions: Direct, Indirect, and Rhetorical

There are three types of questions in English: direct questions, indirect questions, and rhetorical questions. Direct questions and rhetorical questions have a question mark at the end, but indirect questions do not.

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DIRECT QUESTIONS. Direct questions are actively soliciting an answer from the person who is being interrogated.

What is your name?

Where do you live?

How long have you lived there?

You also need a question mark when a direct question is being quoted:

“Will you walk into my parlor?” said a spider to a fly. 

(Details at the Proverb Lab.)

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INDIRECT QUESTIONS. An indirect question reports a question, so it is a statement rather than a question. Even though it might contain a question word, the indirect question does not need a question mark at the end.

Till you try, you never know what you can do.
(Direct question: What can you do?)

One half of the world does not know how the other half lives.
(Direct question: How does the other half of the world live?)

Tell me why the ant midst summer’s plenty thinks of winter’s want.  
(Direct question: Why does the ant midst summer's plenty think of winter's want?)

(Details at the Proverb Lab).

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RHETORICAL QUESTIONS. Rhetorical questions do not actually expect an answer. Instead, they are a way of making a statement without coming out and saying what you mean in the open. Sometimes rhetorical questions are sarcastic or provocative, but sometimes they are highly polite. Because rhetorical questions do have the same form as a direct question, they need a question mark at the end.

Did you really think I would believe your story?

Would you be so kind as to open the door for me?

Am I my brother's keeper?

(Details at the Proverb Lab.)