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Where to put the comma and quotation marks


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I ran into this article from Slate comparing the formal American and British rules on whether to put punctuation marks inside or outside quotation marks.

A good summary.

Great topic, vwl.

This is a subject I struggle with all the time. One reason for that is just what is discussed in the article: the rules aren't set in stone, and different people do it different ways for different reasons.

So what I do is, I follow my own rules, and am consistent in my own writing. Therefore, some of it may be incorrect to some, but at least is always incorrect in the same way.

I put the period inside the quote mark if it is something being quoted.

I said to the police, "George walked me home."

If I'm using quotes to highlight or emphasize or separate a word or phrase, but it isn't quoting anyone, I put the period outside the mark, and as much as possible, make it a single quote mark instead of a double.

I told the police how George was 'filthy rich'. Or: I said to Sgt. Adams, "You know, George was 'filthy rich'."

It's understandable that some of this confusion comes from over the waters from us as many English writers only use single quotations marks, which seems to me to rob them of a device we Americans can and do use. How would they write the above example?

As the article points out, language is changing, and computers certainly are at the root of many of the changes. I myself cannot free myself from adding two spaces after every period. I've been doing it too many years to fight it, and I think copy looks better that way. So I persist, in face of all you people telling me how wrong I am.

At least most of you are nice about it.


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I'm solidly in the British camp on this subject. However, I'm smart enough to know that when taking a class and the instructor is in the other camp then do it the other way.

Colin :icon_cat:

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I think Cole has it right (as usual). I concede that there's a UK vs. American standard, but if you're born in the U.S. and are writing for a largely-American audience, I think that's the way to go.

To me, placing the punctuation inside the quotes makes sense. There are some exceptions, like when the dialog ends with a question mark or an explanation mark, and in that case, I say just "punt."

The Chicago Manual of Style usually solves these arguments (at least to my satisfaction).

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  • 4 years later...

What makes things somewhat daunting is the plethora of style guides: AP, Chicago, Strunk & White, etc. Microsoft Word has (I believe) 8 different ways to footnote a paper, depending on what style your particular group is suppsed to use. And of course the apostrope also being used as a possessive mark adds to the charm of the whole issue.

Easiest thing to do for me is find the style that's right for me and my audience and damn the torpedoes!

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A hint to authors who wish to get published in print format: most publishers follow the Chicago Manual of Style. Having edited several books for my father in the past decade I found the requirements of his publisher were not too onerous, although I admit some of the details took me out of my comfort zone. ​

Damn the torpedoes indeed. The readers deserve a clear understanding of what we are saying, and that's good enough for me.​

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