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I looked through a number of the site's questions to find an answer to my problem. The closest thing I could find was this:

Is it acceptable to place a dash after a question mark?

However, my question is about the reverse scenario: Is it acceptable to place a question mark after a dash? Here's an example:

“But do you think the island even—?”

In this example, the speaker is asking if the island even exists but is interrupted. Would such an abruptly ended question be punctuated with an em dash and then a question mark at the end?

3 Answers 3

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This is based solely on my opinion/experience but, I am pretty sure I have seen that done before, and it has not bothered me. I think it is probably acceptable.

I also think I more often see this case handled as ellipses followed by a question mark.

“But do you think the island even...?”

But I wouldn't spend much time worrying about it either way. That's the kind of thing that, if you're going the traditional publishing route, your future editor would have an opinion on. Or if you're going the self-publishing route, that decision is the kind of detail that readers (in my own completely subjective opinion) don't care about. I've read so many thousands of books and what bothers me is things that are obviously grammatical/spelling errors (of which I usually notice plenty even in the more well-written books), not so much the things like this.

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  • An ellipsis followed by question mark is fine for trailing off, but afaik it's incorrect for an interruption, as per the example.
    – Phil S
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 17:56
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You shouldn't have a question mark after an interruption. You should only have whatever interrupted the speech. The question mark should be inherent in the dialogue itself: (which you've already done in the example)

“But do you think the island even—”

"It's not an island."

Ellipsis generally represents somebody trailing off, or pausing between words, not an interruption.

Grammarly Guide to Dialogue

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A dash is a break in thought, from one focus to another.

I have to warn them—no, no what am I doing?

An ellipses indicates omission, which is what I think you are looking for. At the risk of being pedantic, an ellipsis is a single symbol, not three dots. Technically the question mark is a full stop and, like an exclamation point, has its own "dot."

“But do you think the island even …?”

is not

“But do you think the island even . . .?”

I am referencing the AP Stylebook 2020-2022 (55th edition). In the era of typewriters, three dots (periods) were typed for an ellipsis. With the advent of word processing, this led to layout problems and some people tried to 'connect the dots' with non-breaking spaces. A non-breaking space is, itself, a symbol. So is the ellipsis. On most keyboards the ellipsis is formed by pressing Option and Semicolon keys together. An ellipsis also takes a preceding space. So much for form. The purpose of the symbol is to indicate content left out (e.g., deleted or not complete).

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  • According to The Chicago Manual of Style (says wikipedia), an ellipsis should consist of three periods separated by a non-breaking space. AP style on the other hand says it should be 3 periods without space. I don't know if any style guide recommends the single-symbol ellipsis. But either way, I'd say opinions differ on your last point.
    – user54131
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 15:49
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    An ellipsis is fine for a pause in speech, including if the sentence terminates and is not finished. But when there's an abrupt interruption, a dash is preferable.
    – The Editor
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 16:28

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