A Different Meaning for the Period or Semicolon Before “Is That Correct?”

Deciding to use a period versus a semicolon before “Is that correct?” and expecting your reader to distinguish that they mean something different is an exercise in extreme subtlety. This distinction has been pushed around out there for a long time.

…You testified that he arrived at 9:00; is that correct? — meaning is it correct that you testified to this? 
…You testified that he arrived at 9:00. Is that correct? — meaning is it correct that he arrived at 9:00?
I am just not sure that anyone looks at the period and says, “Ah. It means X,” and then looks at the semicolon and says, “Ah. It means Y.” That is, I just am not sure that this distinction is “obvious” from the punctuation. You certainly may use this difference if you want, though it is not really a “rule” that you are going to find in any standard English reference.
And, by the way, if the answer is “Yes,” then the question just wasn’t effective anyway.
Where a period instead of a semicolon really should be used is the situation where you have a very long question with a bunch of “facts” in it. Then a period and probably even a paragraph before “Is that correct?” is the best punctuation.
 
Happy punctuating!
Margie
 
 

Comments 3

  1. Margie, can you comment on punctuating the following sentence: My understanding is he arrived at 9:00 is that correct

    If you use a semicolon, does that suggest that you are being asked about the questioner’s understanding rather than the time?

    Thank you!

    1. Post
      Author

      This is the situation discussed in the blog. There are some who try to make a distinction between the semicolon and the period. I just don’t think it is clear. I recommend a semicolon as you always use with “is that correct?”

      Hope this helps.

      Margie

  2. I also think that (as in your example) I’d be the one making the distinction which question he was really asking. I’m not there to determine what he means.

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