Punctuating question marks in the middle of a sentence confuses the best of us. Our instinct is often to capitalize the word that follows the question mark, but usually that’s wrong. Here’s an example:
When I asked my teacher, Mr. Cotton, “What is the purpose of life?” this is the answer I received.
Note two things about that sentence. One, the word that proceeds the question and the question mark is lowercased. That’s because the phrase “What is the purpose of life?” is still part of a larger sentence, even though it is a complete sentence and can stand on its own normally, but in this instance it is only half of the sentence.
“This is the answer I received” is the other half and we need it to make our point. Two, there is no comma after the question mark. A version of our example which includes the comma is wrong, e.g., When I asked my teacher, Mr. Cotton, “What is the purpose of life?,” this is the answer I received.
Fortunately, your spellcheck will probably pick up the second issue and flag it as a problem; however, spellcheck may incorrectly tell you that you want to capitalize any word after a question mark. Don’t do it automatically; do so only if it is not part of a larger sentence and that includes dialogue. (“Is the purpose of life to love and be loved?” she asked. No caps for the pronoun and no comma after the question mark.)
Sigrid Macdonald is an author and an editor. You can find her at http://sigridmacdonald.blogspot.com/