What Do I Do with “My question is where are you going?”

Margie Wakeman Wells The Comma 15 Comments

When there are two parts to the sentence, one that makes a statement (…my question is…) and one that asks a question (…where are you going…), it is the one at the end that determines the terminal punctuation. So there is an interrog at the end of this sentence. We have question word order. It is a question.

I would make a distinction between an indirect and a direct question:

…My question is where you were going.
…My question is where are you going?

…My question is what time you left.
…My question is what time did you leave?

And as for the question of putting a comma in this sentence after the word is,ย  I never, never, never want that comma.

We do not put a comma between the verb and its completer.

…My name is, Margie… ๐Ÿ™
…The man is, ready for the surgery… ๐Ÿ™
…The answer is, that she will not be here… ๐Ÿ™

Does anyone want these commas? If you don’t, then you cannot want a comma after is in our sentence here. The grammar going on in these examples is exactly like the grammar going on in “My question is where are you going?”

This is a construction that engenders a lot of heated discussion and one that people disagree on. I will always argue on the side of the grammar that is present in the sentence. The question in this sentence is a predicate nominative that renames the subject question = no comma.

No comma, no comma, no comma!!!! It is not that I feel strongly about this but…

Happy punctuating.

Margie

Comments 15

  1. Hey there, Margie!

    You wrote: The rule is that, when there are two parts to a sentence and one is asking a question and one is making a statement, it is the one at the end that determines the terminal punctuation.

    My question is where are you going?
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    Here is my rule:

    No matter the source, never allow a rule to force you to put on the page that which is needlessly ambiguous or which lends itself to needless misinterpretation.

    There is no power on Earth that can convince me to use a question mark in this fashion: “My question is where are you going?” Punctuating the question that way lends itself to the interpretation that the questioner is asking whether, in fact, the question he is asking is, in fact, the question he is asking.

    Now, everyone who knows me knows that, by default, I salute the rules and I respect those who designed them. This is a case, however, where, for the reasons given above, I refuse to be bound by a rule, even one that is endorsed by my good friend, the delightfully learned Margie Wakeman Wells.

    All of which is to say that I will continue to follow Lillian Morson’s advice on this one, as shown below :

    My question is, Who did it?
    The question is, Will you bring in the documents?”
    My question is, What is meant when the law says “arrangement”?

    The three examples above allow for no ambiguity whatsoever, and they cannot be misunderstood. This style treats the interrogatory as one might treat a nonquoted quotation, which is to say that it is introduced by a comma, and the first word after the word is capped.

    And from Gregg, here are some examples that support the point I am making here:

    Gregg 116:
    The key question is, Whom shall we nominate for next year’s election?

    Gregg 229:
    The question is, Who will pay for restoring the landmark?

    Gregg 302:
    The question is, Whose version of the argument shall we believe?

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Margie, here is a 55-gallon container. It contains all the rules to be found in Morson’s, Gregg, and BG/GP. It is full to the brim. I support those rules, all, that is, that are not contained in this little thimble.

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      Author

      In the context of Q and A, I am going to default to an interrog goes after a question. I understand where you are coming from — the fact that you are saying it looks as if he is wondering, maybe — but I, without something else in the transcript to support this thinking, I am sticking with the straight-forward rule. I believe this rule — two parts to the sentence, one a statement and one a question — is in Gregg.

  2. Just found this website. Very cool! I’m going to stick my toe in the water, so be kind. See below for the way I handle this.

    “My question is: What day of the week was the accident?”

    This make more sense to me, but that’s not saying much – lol. I guess I’m just not used to seeing the comma with a capped word following and no quotes, so to my mind, it needs a colon.

    1. Hi Jim. I use the colon myself, occasionally, depending on the formality of the question, as per the LMEG Rule 31.

      Margie, I totally understand where you’re coming from, but sometimes it just doesn’t read right without that comma. The whole point of punctuation is to make our language more understandable when read, right? Maybe this is one of those “exceptions to the rule” we all grew up hearing about from our teachers!

  3. The reason that the colon is not totally correct is that there is not a complete sentence in front of it, which is one of the rules for the colon. I personally think it makes more sense than the comma and cap.

  4. Hi.

    For those of you who don’t support the comma, cap approach, what about the examples I gave from Gregg, as shown below?

    Gregg 116:
    The key question is, Whom shall we nominate for next yearโ€™s election?

    Gregg 229:
    The question is, Who will pay for restoring the landmark?

    Gregg 302:
    The question is, Whose version of the argument shall we believe?

    And what about the Morson 31(k) examples below?

    My question is, Who did it?
    The question is, Will you bring in the documents?
    My question is, What is meant when the law says “arrangement”?

    1. Post
      Author

      This is a place that I clearly disagree with both of them. I think that this punctuation is not at all supported by the grammar of the language. The question is acting as the predicate nominative. We do not put a comma before a predicate nominative after a condition verb.

  5. I have another question on interrogs.
    An example is “Was that this year or was that last year or what?

    If several questions are joined by a conjunction, do I use a comma or put a question mark after each one? And then what about “or what”?

    1. Post
      Author

      You can do either one.

      Was that this year? Or was that last year? Or what?

      Was that this year, or was that last year? Or what?

      Was that this year, or was that last year or what?

  6. SCENE: A hospital emergency room.
    IN ATTENDANCE: Drs. Wells, Gregg, and Morson (and Corpsman Barker).

    This patient lies on a gurney in the emergency room at the Hospital for Punctuation, Common Sense, and Clarity:

    “My question is where are you going?”

    Dr. Wells enters, examines the patient, and offers the following diagnosis: “When there are two parts to the sentence, one that makes a statement (โ€ฆmy question isโ€ฆ) and one that asks a question (โ€ฆwhere are you goingโ€ฆ), it is the one at the end that determines the terminal punctuation. So there is an interrog at the end of this sentence. We have question word order. It is a question.” Therefore, says, Dr. Wells. “This patient is not in need of punctuational intervention.”

    The patient exclaims, “Wait a minute! I’d like a second opinion, please. For that matter, I want a third opinion!”

    Dr. Wells summons Drs. Morson, Gregg, and Chicago, all three of whom, upon examining the patient, see things very differently, believing the patient to be in agony and in need of immediate intervention. Drs. Morson and Gregg prescribe the insertion of a comma after the word “is” and an initial cap for the word “where” (though, given how short the interrogatiry portion is, Dr. Chicago recommends only the comma, not the nish-cap).

    At this point, the doctors in attendance have prescribed the following remedies:

    According to Dr. Morson: “My question is, Where are you going?”
    According to Dr. Gregg: “My question is, Where are you going?”
    According to Dr. Chicago: “My question is, where are you going?”
    According to Dr. MWW: “My question is where are you going?”

    Dr. Wells turns to Drs. Gregg, Morson, and Chicago and says, “This is a place that I clearly disagree with [all three of you]. I think that [the cures you suggest are] not at all supported by the grammar of the language. The question is acting as the predicate nominative.”

    And then Dr. Wells delivers this zinger: ‘We do not put a comma before a predicate nominative after a condition verb.” (In all of God’s universe, I suggest that you can count on one hand (and have fingers left over) the number of folks who know (or care) that such a rule exists.)

    What have we here, friends? All four of these doctors are highly regarded in their communities, and all three of them want the very best for their patients; so what is to be done, if anything, for this patient?

    Enter Corpsman Barker (not a doctor, but he plays one in his own mind), who turns to Drs. Wells, Morson, Gregg, and Chicago: “On this gurney we either observe a patient in need of care, or we observe a malingerer, that is, a patient who, for whatever reasons, only pretends to be in need of punctuational intervention. For just a moment, let us hold off on any suggested interventions and look at this from a commonsense viewpoint.

    “The first question that comes to my mind is, ‘Is this patient suffering from a condition known as ambiguity syndrome?’ In other words, as she lies there on the gurney, does her condition either increase or decrease the likelihood of misunderstanding on the part of those who observe her in this condition?

    “To me, with no comma, no cap, and with a question mark at the end of the sentence, the patient’s condition does in fact increase the likelihood of creating an ambiguity that, if treated properly, would not exist at all. And here is what I would prescribe: a comma after the word “is,” an initial cap for the word “where,” and a question mark at the end of the sentence, as follows: ‘My question is, Where were you going?’ [While I could be convinced to defer to Dr. Chicago in leaving the “where” uncapped when the interrogatory part is as short as in this example, I’m still defending the comma, and I still prefer the nish-cap.]

    “To me, being a mere corpsman, not a formally educated doctor like the esteemed Dr. Wells, who is known far and wide for her deep understanding of the nuances of punctuation, or like Dr. Morson, Dr. Gregg, or Dr. Chicago, all of legendary fame, the patient’s condition is so dire and the cure for her condition so easy that I am stunned to find you, my esteemed friend Dr. Wells, objecting to the remedy that I have prescribed here, which, by the way, is a remedy that, for at least a quarter of a century, in the prescriptions of Drs. Morson, Gregg, and Chicago, has brought pain relief to thousands upon thousands of patients suffering from this very same condition.

    “Without applying the remedies that I (a mere corpsman, remember), Dr. Morson, Dr. Gregg, and Dr. Chicago prescribe for this patient (and have long prescribed for patients in this condition) the patient will continue to lie there in that pitiful condition and will continue to infect, with this question, nearly all of those who observe her: ‘Is the patient asking *us* whether the question she is asking is in fact the question she is asking?’

    “The comma, cap bandages that can be applied to this patient’s condition (or comma, no cap, depending on length) are so noninvasive, so beneficial, and so easy to apply that I am at a loss as to why you are in such strong disagreement.

    “Dr. Wells, what was that you said? Oh, here it is. ‘We do not put a comma before a predicate nominative after a condition verb.’ Who is ‘we’? You’re not speaking for the esteemed doctors Lillian Morson and William A. Sabin or for the authors of Chicago, all of whom have been providing essential care to patients like this one for a very, very long time.

    “Dr. Wells, you have long supported the nonrule rule that one is justified in using a comma when doing so serves to remove ambiguity. Well, here we have such a situation, one where the insertion of a simple comma can put this patient out of her misery while at the same time reducing the confusion encountered by those who observe her in this embarrassing, unadorned state. And to this you continue to say, ‘We do not put a comma before a predicate nominative after a condition verb’?

    “Is it not true, Dr. Wells, that ‘First, do no harm’ is the mantra of the medical community? I most respectfully submit to you that, in cases like this one, to do nothing is, in fact, to do great harm, harm that could be completely avoided by applying the accepted and reasonable standard of punctuational care that has long been prescribed by the Chicago Manual of Style, by Morson’s, and by Gregg.

    “So, then, I leave it to your discretion, Dr. Wells. If the patient is yours, proceed as you think appropriate, especially since, in doing so, there is no danger of exposing the patient to any life-threatening conditions. As for me, though, I will not allow a patient of mine to lie there, untreated, suffering, in a state of confusion, creating needless ambiguity, and spreading her communicable condition through the ranks of innocent bystanders.”

    Stepping out now from the imagined discussion above, my good friend Margie, allow me to observe that it has been a very long time since anyone stepped up to the plate and invested the necessary time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears required in order to provide the reporting community with a freshened approach to the punctuation of transcripts. Having done that (and I consider that to have been a truly superhuman effort), you are to be highly commended and respected.

    Your very detailed and immensely helpful Bad Punctuation/Good Grammar is a gift to the reporting world for which I, among many others, am very, very grateful. (No reporting professional’s language library is complete without it. Trust me, folks).

    In the pages of BG/GP, though I find things with which I (and others) disagree, I also find within those same pages clear evidence that you are doing your very best (and succeeding much, much more often than not) to shine the bright light of clarity upon the murky and mystifying problems that arise in the course of human communications, both spoken and written.

    In reading BG/GP, I have relearned things that I once knew but simply forgot; I have learned things that I never knew at all; and I have unlearned things that I once believed to be correct but which, in the revealing light of your learned advice, have turned out to be undeniably incorrect. So, then, it has been with the utmost respect and personal affection that I have offered my commentary on this subject. I trust that you will grant that, believing as strongly as I do on this matter, I really had no choice but to offer my opinion (as well as the foundation and rationale upon which that opinion stands).

    Enjoy your Saturday, buddy o’ mine!

    Jim

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      Author

      Dear Corpsman Barker,

      I must say you have a most entertaining story here. Perhaps you have missed your calling and should really be a writer. Think of all of the places you might put sneaky commas and dashes to lead your reader to your denouement.

      In the final analysis, my patient knows what a predicate nominative is and would not consider, under any circumstances, having a comma inserted before it! My patient will live or die, based on how the grammar works in English!! ๐Ÿ™‚

      In all seriousness, thank you for the kind words, Jim, and for bringing a smile to my face this evening. I appreciate that you took the time to respond and that you care enough to respond in such fashion.

      In my next great endeavor, I am going to undertake to write a grammar book so that everyone who comes even close to it will know what a predicate nominative is and know not to put a comma before it — among many other things, of course.

      I think I need to put you to work proofreading my latest about-to-be book. You have away too much time on your hands.

      I hope that your week is, ๐Ÿ™ a wonderful one.

      Margie

  7. Uh, Jim, that would be “Bad Grammar/Good Punctuation,” not “Bad Punctuation/Good Grammar.” Good grief.

  8. Hi, Margie.

    In the final analysis, my patient knows what a predicate nominative is and would not consider, under any circumstances, having a comma inserted before it! My patient will live or die, based on how the grammar works in English!!”

    You may know, and your patient may know; but I submit to you that the logic of my arguments on this point, supported as they are by Chicago, Morson’s, and Gregg, is ironclad. A sentence lies before us. It can mean A, or it can mean B. We have at out disposal the cure for that unhealthy, ambiguous condition. Not to use that remedy is to purposely deny the patient a proper level of care, which, to me, is a clear violation of “First, do no harm.”

    “I am going to undertake to write a grammar book so that everyone who comes even close to it will know what a predicate nominative is and know not to put a comma before it . . . .”

    And I, dear friend, will buy that book. (Then, with a mixture of sadness and glee, I will rip that page out and feed it to the shredder.)

    Lest there be any confusion as to my position (kinda doubtful, I know), I will simply say that “The question is where am I going?” if meant to convey that the question is “Where am I going?” is an abomination that should never be allowed to see the light of day. Such utter piffle causes my eyes to water, my ears to burn, and my brain to reel.

    Of course, that has nothing to do with my respect for you or my admiration for the seriousness with which you approach the English language, not to mention for all that I have either learned or unlearned by reading the marvelous BG/GP. You’re a winner, gal, but even winners have blind spots. Endearingly and with the very best of intentions,I suggest that you consult a punctuational ophthalmologist and have this troublesome speck removed from your mind’s eye (the plank(s) in my own being another matter entirely).

    Margie Wakeman Wells, I like arguing with you more than I like agreeing with most folks.

    ๐Ÿ™‚

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      Author

      My dearest Jim,

      When I have more than three minutes in a row, I am going to go back and read all of your posts on this and really think through your reasoning on this one. I cannot imagine that I will ever be able to put that comma in there without serious heart palpitations and an ER visit, but I am going to give it much thought. I have always said that I would go for a colon (though we know that also violates the rules!) before I would agree to a comma.

      I hope you are enjoying a glorious and happy and cool — Florida is not! — Friday.

      ๐Ÿ™‚ to you too.

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