I’ve been seeing a lot of sentences like this lately:
Pronouns and adverbs like who, what, when, where, and how are often the first words in an interrogative (question); we all know that instinctively. However, just because the first word in a sentence is one of these words, the sentence isn’t automatically a question.
I don’t know if there is some grammar correct app or autocorrect feature that is turning every sentence that begins with “how” or “what” into a question, but I’m shocked that these are getting by so many writers. Check out this sentence:
What you said yesterday made me laugh.
Today, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this as, “What you said yesterday made me laugh?”
Am I alone here or have you been seeing this more often in recent months as well? I tested autocorrect in Microsoft Word and I also checked to see if this is an error Grammarly might cause someone to make, but I didn’t find that either one of these software systems is guilty of this sentence structure slip up.
Sadly, I’m forced to conclude that people are just making this unforced error. Is it possible that they believe that any time they start a sentence with who, what, when, where, why, or how, they need to put a question mark at the end? Lord, I hope they haven’t been taught this!
I hate to think that we’ve reared a group of writers who would commonly make this mistake. It is such a basic item in grammar and sentence structure, that people should know it simply by osmosis.
Now I’ll step off my soapbox of judgment for a moment. If you’re writing fast and are a creature of habit, perhaps this is a mistake you could make. Check your work. Read it aloud to yourself. You’ll catch these if you do the natural upward inflection when you come to a question mark…unless you’re an adherent of Valley Speak and end every sentence with an upward inflection. (Damn, I promised to get off my soapbox of judgment! Sorry.)
Finally, there is one other possible culprit behind this interrogative mystery: People are actually trying to construct a question and they’ve dropped the ball. In this case, writers need to know that just because you start a sentence with one of these words and end it with a question mark, it doesn’t automatically become a legitimate question.
In the example from my little screen capture clip, the writer would need to reword the sentence to something like:
- How can you make remote working work for you? or
- How do you make remote working work for you?
I have been seeing this mistake in headlines and social media posts. I know that we often use questions in these two areas because they tend to engage readers, so maybe people are slapping question marks at the end of statements with the hopes to boost views.
What do you think?
UPDATE: I just received an email inquiry from a writer who wants to guest post on a site I edit. This person made the “question” mistake twice in the inquiry: