I Wonder, Where Is That Comma?

This is a comma rule that I wasn’t even sure of myself and had to look up! I’ve seen it handled many different ways in manuscripts, but here’s what Chicago Manual of Style says: Questions are sometimes included within another sentence either directly or indirectly—not as a quotation but as part of the sentence as a whole. A direct question (unless it comes at the beginning of a sentence) is usually introduced by a comma. A direct question may take an initial capital letter if it is relatively long or has internal punctuation.

  •  Suddenly he asked himself, where am I headed?
  • The question on everyone’s mind was, how are we going to tell her?
  • Legislators had to be asking themselves, Can the fund be used for the current emergency, or must it remain dedicated to its original purpose?

If the result seems awkward, rephrase as an indirect question. An indirect question does not require a question mark, nor does it need to be set off with a comma. Indirect questions are never capitalized (except at the beginning of a sentence). Here are ways to rephrase:

  • Suddenly he asked himself where he was headed.
  • The question of how to tell her was on everyone’s mind.
  • Ursula wondered why her watch had stopped ticking.
  • Where to find a reliable clock is the question of the hour.

And don’t put a question mark at the end of these sentences just because the word question is in there or a question is implied. I’m amazed at how many sentences I come across with question marks at the end and the sentence is not a question!

7 Responses to “I Wonder, Where Is That Comma?”

  1. Adam Blumer February 22, 2013 at 8:04 am #

    Thank you! I’ve often had questions about this one. You’ve answered my questions so clearly.

  2. Dolores E. Torres-Green February 22, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    Susan,

    This is really good! Ha-ha I get the point, but also I relate this to a comment I made a while back, which is why now I am totally having my laugh for the day! 😀 God spoke to me and said,”Do not not put a period where I have placed a comma! This is not over until I say it is over!” LOL

    Anyway, I needed this and so loved it. Thank you.

    Dolores 🙂

  3. H.L. Pauff February 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    Thank you for this. I always tried to stay away from this in my writing because I didn’t know the rules!

  4. Angela Parson Myers February 26, 2013 at 7:36 am #

    Thank you. Turns out I need this information for my WIP. Couldn’t be more timely.

  5. Rinelle Grey March 2, 2013 at 2:09 am #

    I’ve wondered this a couple of times myself, but hadn’t gotten around to looking it up. Now I don’t have to! Thanks.

  6. Peter D. Mallett March 6, 2013 at 5:16 am #

    Commas have always been a difficulty with me. I used to use too many. I would have had to look this rule up too.
    I have two questions.
    I might have thought that these questions even within a sentence would have quotation marks even though they are not actually spoken. Is the fact that they are not spoken the reason they do not?

    Can you clarify why one sentence is capitalized and not the others?

    Thank you for your always helpful tips.

  7. Laura Hedgecock March 6, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    Very helpful. Thanks

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