Recently I was happy to help out a fellow Barnes & Noble blogger, Jill Dearman. To make a long story short, I wound up taking questions about quotation marks from a bunch of eager youngsters.

 

Specifically, the question was where are quotation marks correctly placed with regard to other punctuation? The short answer is, most punctuation – commas, periods, question marks, exclamation points, so-called interrobangs – that belongs to the quoted material, goes inside the “ ”; only colons and semicolons are placed outside.

 

Punctuation that belongs to material, such as a surrounding sentence, that is outside the quoted material goes outside. When a sentence ends with a period, it goes inside the “ .”

 

When quoted material is inside quoted material, single quotes surround the interior quote.

 

There’s some great material out there to learn more from at the Online Writing Lab site, run by Purdue University, and very clear explanations in the  

New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage.

 

 

Of course, a few quick examples make the guidelines clearer:

 

Did you ever see “Midnight Cowboy”?

“Well,” she said, “you certainly didn’t waste any time.”

People tend to mispronounce the word “library.”

“Is it almost over?” he asked.

“The song asks, “Would you like to swing on a star?”

Bob said, “She said, ‘I’ll never leave you.’ “

“May I have a raincheck on that lunch?” I asked.

Do you believe the saying, “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it"?

 

However, in Great Britain and its former Commonwealth countries, the guidelines are exactly opposite!

 

No one is certain exactly why this is so, but it is. And it’s led to some interesting stories.

 

When Lynne Truss’s classic book on grammar and usage (including punctuation, of course)  

Eats, Shoots and Leaves  was first published in the United States, it preserved the British punctuation style. No big deal at all, since her writing was quite clear and brilliant and few, if any readers, were confused.

 

When I was first starting as young copy editor, I made extra money by Americanizing the punctuation of scores of British mysteries after the editors bought the rights at Frankfurt. (I also Americanized the spelling and word choice, but that's another blog post.)

 

So, although I’ve profited by the difference, I’ve never been able to dig up the reason why such difference exists. A British American mystery all its own!

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