Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Commas, Periods, and Quotation Marks

I've noticed lately that electing to follow the "American" rules for commas, periods, and quotation marks often places me in the minority. Frequently, when I punctuate my writing utilizing American rather than British rules, people who wish to use the work will correct what is perceived by them as an error. It's true that the British rules are more intuitive and logical, but then so are the British, right? (Well...more logical, anyway.) Be that as it may, the American standard is strictly followed by editors of all literary work in the US, though not always followed in technological work. For what it's worth, here is the American rule of thumb (per, Sue's favorite online repository of facts––endorsed by Encyclopedia Britannica, Yahoo, and moi. heehee):

"When using quotation marks, people are faced with several choices as to how to place punctuation like commas and periods. If you’re writing with British standards, commas, periods, question marks and others fall naturally. Some are included within the quotation marks, if it makes sense, and others are outside of it. The standard rule in American punctuation is that periods go inside quotation marks, as do most commas, even if the punctuation is not part of the quote.

"American English is known for its exceptions to rules, and there is one type of incidence where it would not be the case that periods go inside quotation marks. If you place quotation marks around a letter or number, usually the period or comma falls outside the quotes. Consider the following example:

    I got three “Bs” and an “A”.

"This is the only incidence that ignores the fact that most periods go inside quotation marks. The letter in quotes stands alone.

"In most other incidences, though, you’ll find periods go inside quotation marks, and so do commas. Even if you’re quoting a couple of words from a text, commas (without being part of the text) are included in the quotes:

    The poet refers to the graveyard as “dismal,” “heartbreaking,” “sleeping,” and “fat.”

"Note the commas, though they probably are not part of the original quote. In British English, these would fall outside the quotes.

"While you can stand by the rule that most periods go inside quotation marks, and most commas will also do so if you're writing in American English, there are different rules for other types of punctuation." (Question marks and semi-colons, for example, go outside the quotes unless they are part of the quoted material itself.)

CLEAR AS MUD, EH? But who ever said proper punctuation was easy? (Yeah, that's what I thought!)

Anyway, for reasons I can't even begin to explain or justify, I just wanted to put this out there. Admit it, you're fascinated. heehee


Becky said...

I totally get it and I am glad you wrote this post. I was trying to explain this to my husband a few months ago and he was convinced all punctuation went on the outside of the quotation marks. I knew it wasn't so. :-D Fascinating for sure.

KC Mom said...

Ah...English, the language that makes no sense. I think I probably would have gotten better grades if I studied a foreign language since birth other than english.
You could do what I do...don't follow rules!

karen said...

*brow furrowed* Well - I guess we know now, don't we? Hmmmmm... or not.

jen said...

As a former BYU proofreader and editor, I am constantly amazed at the lack of recognition punctuation receives, especially now that the world is so digital. Thank you for alerting the masses!

jen said...

Received your book in the mail today. Pretty much at the end of my rope, so the timing couldn't be better! Thank you.

Karen said...

I typed a witty comment about "math people" and the dang thing lost it! Somehow I can only be whitty once. I am lame sauce on punctuation, grammer and spelling *sigh* least you cannot see my hand writing.

Wish the comments had spell check.


Ryan said...


Sue said...

Nobody's handwriting is worse than mine. Nobody's!


em said...

when i was teaching i was always amazed at what i would learn. there were so many things wrong with my punctuation. even the "perfect grammar" i thought i had! i'm ALWAYS up for a lesson;-)

Fiauna said...

I'm going to bookmark that website; I need all the help I can get when it comes to grammar rules.

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