Placing punctuation marks around parentheses can be a tricky thing to understand. It would help to know whether question marks go inside or outside parentheses. This article will help you to understand all the rules that are associated with it.
Question Mark Inside or Outside Parentheses?
In standard English, it’s best practice to include a question mark outside of parentheses if the overall sentence is a question. The question can be inside the parentheses if only the clause within the parentheses is considered the question. Punctuation should almost always be outside.
According to APA Style, which is a common style for writing in English, punctuation should always come after parentheses. This applies to all types of punctuation.
The following examples will demonstrate what we mean:
- I wasn’t going to be there (though I told them I might be).
- Did she need help with her exams (which were coming up soon)?
- I thought you were leaving (now I’m in trouble)!
Regardless of the punctuation mark, it’s standard practice to include it outside of parentheses.
However, what happens when the original sentence is a statement, and only the contents of the parentheses is a question? While this is an uncommon structure, it is still something that might appear.
- I needed to go there (or did I?).
Here, there are a few things happening. Firstly, “I needed to go there” is a standalone sentence.
A period will always be required after a sentence like this to show that it has ended. Since there is a set of parentheses after the end of the clause, the period must now come after the parentheses.
However, the contents of the parentheses is a question phrase as “or did I?” A question mark can be inside the parentheses in this sense because the overall sentence isn’t a question.
The period must be what comes outside of the parentheses, meaning that the question mark and period will both be required. If the period is not used, the sentence is incomplete:
- Incorrect: I needed to go there (or did I?)
This is not a common idea. Most people would forego the parentheses entirely and stick to the following:
- I needed to go there, or did I?
Question Mark Inside Parentheses
You should include question marks inside parentheses when the contents of the parentheses is the only question. If the sentence as a whole isn’t asking a question, but the parenthetical clause is, then the question mark will make more sense inside.
- I did not have the time to get it done (could you potentially do it for me?).
- I wanted to be there (did she even want me to arrive, though?).
- I couldn’t find a way to do it (should I have tried slightly harder?).
- There were a few issues with it (did you think you were going to get away with them?).
- I can’t be the only one (why do I feel like I am?).
- You have to be joking (does he really believe he’s the leader of this team?).
- I can’t put my finger on it (am I stupid for not understanding what’s going on here?).
Question Mark Outside Parentheses
Question marks should be outside of parentheses in almost all situations when the sentence is a question. If the whole sentence is supposed to be asked as a question, then the punctuation mark must come after the parentheses to end the sentence correctly.
- What were you asking me again (and can I help at all)?
- Were you going to say something to me (I could really do with some encouragement)?
- Did I say something to offend you (if so, I’m really sorry)?
- Should we have arrived slightly earlier (I told them that we needed to leave quicker)?
- Could you not have mentioned this sooner (now we’re all in trouble with the law)?
- Do I have to do this on my own (can’t at least one of you help me with this)?
- Have you given this idea any consideration yet (or are you just ignoring it)?
It’s always better to include a question mark outside of parentheses when asking a question. However, you might find that it works inside parentheses when you are only asking a question as part of a single clause. This practice is uncommon, and most people stick to commas.
You may also like:
What Does a Question Mark Inside Parentheses (?) Mean?
Do You Put a Space Before and After Parentheses? (Examples)
Comma Before Or After Parentheses? Explained For Beginners
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.