I recently had copy editing done, and an issue came up about what punctuation (a period, question mark, or an exclamation point) is appropriate when a question is used to make a point rather than elicit an answer?
For example, my protagonist was thinking My God! That’s a miracle. Who would have thought Ruthie survived running away. How is she? I ended the third sentence with a period, and the copy editor suggested I use a question mark. Fair enough.
But the sentence Who would have thought Ruthie survived running away. means I find it hard to believe Ruthie survived running away. The sentence is not meant to be answered by anyone, not even the protagonist. In writing the sentence in the form of Who would have thought, I intended to state the miracle of Ruthie’s survival more universally than stating it just in the singular opinion of the protagonist, giving the fact of her survival more dramatic punch.
Using a question to make a point rather than elicit an answer leads us into the half-world of rhetorical questions, of which there are many varieties, some of which, I suggest, deserve ending punctuation other than the question mark.
The insinuation question. “Can’t you do anything right?” implying a lack of ability. For me, this sentence could just as well end with an exclamation mark. “Can’t you do anything right!”
The challenge question. “What has he ever done for us?” meaning that he hasn’t done anything for us.
The metaphoric question, when a simple question is followed by a metaphoric question that’s clearly answered yes: meaning the preceding question stated the obvious. “Is he a good musician? Is the Pope Catholic?”
The tag question. “Jason committed the murder, didn’t he? This is a declarative phrase followed by a question raising doubt about the truth of the declarative phrase.
The concluding question. “Why not?” This question infers that the writer has set forth his argument and is asking the reader for her response.
The polite request question. “Would all the men please remove their hats.” To me, this type of rhetorical question should end with a period.
So, I come back to the specific issue of what types of rhetorical questions should be (or could be) punctuated by periods or exclamation points. What do you think?