Posted by: Idioma Extra | April 15, 2010

Thursday’s Tidbit


Punctuating with Quotation Marks

Can you identify incorrect punctuation in any of these sentences?

1. The suspect told the arresting officer, “I was nowhere near the crime”.
2. “Walk to the corner”, she explained to the child, “and turn left”.
3. The woman screamed to her son, “Stop pulling the dog’s tail”!
4. What did you do when Paul said, “You can pay for dinner tonight?”
5. John said, “I have just finished reading Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’.”

Each of these sentences contains an error involving the punctuation near the closing quotation marks.

RULE 1: ALL periods and commas ALWAYS go inside ALL quotation marks (i.e., single AND double). Thus, sentences 1, 2, and 5 should look like this:

1. The suspect told the arresting officer, “I was nowhere near the crime.”
2. “Walk to the corner,” she explained to the child, “and turn left.”
5. John said, “I have just finished reading Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess.'”

Keep in mind that periods and commas go inside even if only the last word in a sentence is in quotation marks and even when we have single quotation marks inside of double:

We were sorry to see that the sign on the door said “Closed.”

She wrote in her diary, “Everywhere we looked we found signs that read ‘Closed.'”

RULE 2: Question marks and exclamation points can go inside OR out, depending on the meaning of the sentence in question. Thus, sentences 3 and 4 should look like this:

3. The woman screamed to her son, “Stop pulling the dog’s tail!”
4. What did you do when Paul said, “You can pay for dinner tonight”?

In number 3, the part of the sentence that was exclaimed was the part inside the quotation marks, so the exclamation point belongs there.  In number 4, the larger sentence was the question (What did you do. . . ?), not the part inside the quotation marks, so the question mark belongs outside.

Test Yourself!

How would you punctuate around the closing quotation marks in the following sentences?

1. Bill asked Sandra, “Will you marry me”
2. Did Sandra say to Bill, “We can be married in April”
3. The director thundered furiously to the actors, “We are not leaving until everyone knows his or her lines ”
4. The librarian whispered to us, “The sign on the wall says ‘Quiet'”

Answers from the Last Tidbit

  1. I can’t speak any other language. Even if I could speak Chinese, I don’t know that I would travel to China.
  2. She has worked at the company for five years. Even though she loves her job, she’d like to find something new within the next year.
  3. Robert is really struggling at his new job. Even so, he loves the new experience and is arriving early and leaving late everyday to learn as much as he can.
  4. Even if Brazil wins the World Cup this year, it won’t be an easy win.
  5. Even though Costa Rica didn’t make it to the World Cup, there will be many Tico supporters in South Africa.

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