Problems with Question Marks

Two problem situations involving question marks are the indirect question and the sarcastic or emphatic question. These are special cases that require you to be clear about your intended meaning.

Indirect questions

When a question is being reported rather than directly asked, it ends with a period rather than a question mark. Compare the following sentences.

Ethan asked, “What made the stars so brilliant tonight?” (direct question)
Ethan asked what made the stars so brilliant tonight. (indirect question with the intent of a statement)

Sarcastic and emphatic question marks

Don't use a question mark inside parentheses to indicate sarcasm (as in the first example below). If you want to emphasize a sarcastic tone, consider using quotation marks and italic type (as in the second example).

The actor said his interest in the orphans was purely altruistic ( ?) and that the presence of the photographers was coincidental. (Inserting a question mark in parentheses is not advisable.)
The actor said his interest in the orphans was “ purely altruistic” and that the presence of the photographers was coincidental. (This example shows the sarcastic tone more clearly.)

Be careful not to overuse quotation marks and italic type to indicate a sarcastic tone.

Never use more than one question mark for emphasis.

Do you really want to risk your life skydiving?
NOT Do you really want to risk your life skydiving??

The word really emphasizes the point, as does the use of italics.