In many things I read question marks are used after what is obviously a question, but sometimes they are not used (even though it is the same person who wrote it).

Is there a reason why, even stuff written by the same person, can be so inconsistent with regards to questions having question marks?


4 Answers 4


It can't be explained in terms of a single factor.

  • Historical change of language
    Interestingly, the question mark (along with exclamation) isn't defined in Japanese orthography. Traditional Japanese language always has a question particle or a question word in an interrogative sentence, which makes question mark unnecessary. However, as modern spoken language comes to substitute rising intonation for question particle more and more, explicit question mark is needed more and more to avoid misunderstanding. For this reason, recent writers use the symbol more than old-time writers.

  • Writers' styles
    Of course, it isn't that simple as every writer in a generation uses question marks uniformly. Some of them use them in very conservatively, while others do near-obligatory, even for similar content. Maybe you find great inconsistency among writers, but think it as their writing styles.

  • The meaning of the sign
    The question mark is a punctuation, but as its introduction to Japanese as replacement for question particles, more and more people have gotten to understand this symbol as a phonogram — that directly transcribes rising intonation itself. If the writer maintains this stance, you can no more expect the symbol to be indication of question; they don't put it in question where the rising pitch is absent or weak (such as in rhetorical question), but attach it when the rising appears outside question (such as in uptalk?).


I would say that if the "ka" is used, then a question mark is unnecessary, unless it is used as a courtesy to foreigners reading it. One user may forget to use it sometimes because they are not used to using it at all in their native language. What source are you looking at for someone using/not using it? It might help slightly with a better answer.


I agree with Ronk's answer. Many people are just not conscious of orthographic inconsistency.

From a point of view of oral reading, question marks often indicate a strong accent on the last character of the sentence to emphasize it's a question (even if without using か) as seen in other languages as well.




In old novels, there might be a question without question mark nor か, like



As I see it, it is mainly linked to the speech politeness that is used. In informal speech, the question form is achieved by intonation mainly (and often, some additional particles at the end), so in writing the question mark is necessary. In formal speech, question particle is mandatory, so question mark is redundant (and thus, not used):

ex. informal: 食べる。"Taberu." (I) will eat. 食べる? "Taberu?" Will you eat? (the subject is often ambiguous in Japanese, because it is not mandatory to include it) or "Taberu no?" Will you eat?"

versus formal: 食べます。"Tabemasu." I will eat. 食べますか。"Tabemasuka." Will you eat? The "ka" particle indicates, that is is a question - the question mark is unnecessary here.

Or maybe you have some real-world examples, that one about you wrote? If so, please post it, and I will try to better grasp the case and explain it further.

  • 1
    "In formal speech, question particle is mandatory, so question mark is redundant". Huh? Do you mean formal writing?
    – dainichi
    Aug 9, 2016 at 5:36
  • I mean formal (-masu, -desu) speech, but written, yes. "Formal writing" is another thing (much more formal), as in Japanese I would interpret it different then just "formal speech, written". That's my understanding of this case, I hope I explained it clearly.
    – JMKS
    Aug 9, 2016 at 9:04

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .