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I'm imagining this sort of statement:

He's a... different... sort of person, I suppose.

Some people would pronounce 'different' in that sentence as though it was followed by a question mark, but not the rest of the sentence. However, writing it like this strikes me as wrong:

He's a... different? Sort of person, I suppose.

The second sentence doesn't look grammatically correct to me. That being the case, how would I indicate the change in tone accurately in writing?

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migrated from english.stackexchange.com Aug 24 '11 at 11:17

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

    
Try using "?..". Dunno, maybe I'm just extrapolating usual techniques of my native language, but that's what we use in your situation. (although I must admit rarely, if ever, seeing it in Classical literature) –  Philoto Aug 24 '11 at 7:23
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I would italicize the word "different". "He's a... different ...sort of person, I suppose." –  Cryst Aug 24 '11 at 7:25
    
Italicizing is very nice one...I would, as well –  A.Uysal Aug 24 '11 at 8:02
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Why do you consider it necessary to indicate the change using only punctuation? Consider: He's a _different_ sort of person, I suppose,, or "He's a different sort of person, I suppose," said Keith. He paused on "different" when he said it, making the word sound like a question, and hardly a subtle one. Punctuation only goes so far :P –  Standback Aug 24 '11 at 11:52

3 Answers 3

Personally, I wouldn't use punctuation to indicate the tone change at all. Punctuation marks are like modifiers - use them too often and they loose their effect. This is commonly acknowledged with the exclamation point especially, but holds true for many and perhaps all punctuation marks, with the possible exception of the period and quote marks during dialog.

If I wanted to convey a change in tone, I would actually describe the tone I was after or use descriptions of gestures or facial features to explain it.

"Well he's a," she paused for a moment, her mouth working silently as she racked her brain for the right word, "well just a different sort of person, I suppose." She made air quotes with her free left hand when she said "different."

All standard punctuation, but the text itself should help explain the tone and meaning.

If you must use punctuation rather than words, Kate has provided a variety of useful suggestions.

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Good point - everything in moderation, though. Too much description can really make a scene drag. I think there are times to describe, and times to use the short-hand provided by punctuation. It may also depend on the style of writing/genre. Interesting. –  Kate Sherwood Aug 24 '11 at 13:13
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Also probably depends on which punctuation you're trying to avoid. For example, "He's a different sort of person." She raised her voice the end of the sentence to make it clear that she was seeking information. "Is that what you're trying to say." Another questioning lift to her voice." is obviously absurd. Question marks are useful. ;) –  Kate Sherwood Aug 24 '11 at 13:16

I think the ellipses are fine, but I agree with the comment from the original site that italics would work as well. But neither one really shows a question, to my reading.

If you mean for someone to be emphasizing 'different', I'd use italics.

"He's a different sort of person. Not like the others at all."

If you mean for someone to be using 'different' as a sort of code for 'strange' or 'unappealing', I'd use quotation marks.

"He's a 'different' sort of person. Not our sort at all."

If you mean for someone to be struggling for words, I'd use ellipses.

"He's a... a different sort of person. I think that's what I'd call him."

If you mean for someone to be questioning whether he's really different, I'd use a question mark.

"He's a different sort of person? Is that what you're saying?"

If you mean for someone to be focusing in on the word different, while still asking a question, I'd combine things!

"He's a different sort of person? Is that the word you'd use?"

Are there other possibilities? Probably!

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I like how you explained the meaning conveyed by the varying punctuation and emphases. –  Lauren Ipsum Aug 24 '11 at 12:15
    
@Lauren Ipsum - so does that mean I got your vote on this one? (Don't blame me for my new obsession, YOU were the one who was all 'it's something to strive for...'). –  Kate Sherwood Aug 24 '11 at 12:48
    
You did! I'll mark future ones '+1' so you don't have to wonder. :D –  Lauren Ipsum Aug 24 '11 at 14:28

It depends on the writer. However, they prefer to place a question mark at the end of the sentence. Probably to emphasize you should make a different sentence? It seems to me that...or I ...He seems to be different.. or I wonder if he.....

I would prefer not using sort of a person... cause itself is in the meaning of person/ individual.. He is a different sort will be enough ..

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