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I am wondering if using a question mark at the end of the following sentence is acceptable:

Is there any— I mean?

Or should an ellipsis be used:

Is there any— I mean...

The words in the sentence must not be changed.

1 Answer 1

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Your question asks how to punctuate a question that is left unfinished. Here are the relevant conventions:

  1. If an utterance is left unfinished and trails off into silence, you add an ellipsis at the end:

    "But I thought he was..."

  2. If an utterance is interrupted and breaks off abruptly, you add an em dash at the end:

    "But I'm trying to explain that I—"

  3. If an utterance is a question, this is identified by a question mark:

    "How are you?"

  4. When a question trails off, the ellipsis and question are combined:

    "Could you...?"

  5. When a question breaks off abruptly, the em dash and question mark are combined:

    "Wha—?"


How your example needs to be punctuated depends on whether the two parts trail off or break off abruptly and whether the second part is pronounced in a questioning tone or not. This gives us the following eight options:

Is there any...? I mean...
Is there any...? I mean—
Is there any—? I mean...
Is there any—? I mean—
Is there any...? I mean...?
Is there any...? I mean—?
Is there any—? I mean...?
Is there any—? I mean—?

If the second part trails off or breaks off, the following is false:

I mean?

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  • Thanks for your input. The "I mean" is sort of asking a question. In the context, it is to try to convey: "I mean [can anything be done]? I hadn't realized that a question mark could be used after an em dash.
    – Cedar
    Commented Apr 3 at 23:58
  • @Cedar If "I mean" is uttered in a questioning tone, just add a question mark after it: "Is there any...? I mean...?" To me, that feels strange, because I cannot think of a question that begins with "I mean", but if you can, do so. Note: Something like "I mean, is there any milk left?" is actually two clauses, a statement ("I mean") and a question ("Is there any milk left"), and the first clause isn't intonated as a question but as a statement.
    – Ben
    Commented Apr 4 at 8:23
  • @Cedar I see. Try and say that aloud. I'm convinced you will realize that the first and last are intonated as questions, while the middle "I mean" has a different intonation. I therefore still think that there shouldn't be a question mark after "I mean..." But as I said, if you perceive it as a question, simply write "I mean...?", that is, use both ellipsis and question mark. —— Does all of this taken together answer your question?
    – Ben
    Commented Apr 4 at 14:07
  • Thanks again for your thoughts. In the context, if the sentence did not contain an ellipsis or em dash, it would read something like: "Is there any way, I mean, can anything be done?" Or else as two sentences: "Is there any way something can be done? I mean, is it possible?" The sentence, or sentences, are from an audio transcription. I have been trying the say it aloud approach, but may need to listen to the audio again. I just don't have access to it at the moment. It seemed as though the "I mean" was said in a questioning tone, but I also get what you are saying.
    – Cedar
    Commented Apr 4 at 14:17
  • @ Ben. I deleted one of my comments because I needed to edit it but it was outside the 5 minute editing window. Sorry about that.
    – Cedar
    Commented Apr 4 at 14:24

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