insomniac question about quotation marks and commas

I couldn’t sleep (again, have napped for 3 hours since noon thursday) so I went browsing for who knows what. I then remembered seeing something funny a while back, googled and came back with:

Yes, with that comma before ‘she’. I found this here (first site I found with google, I’ve seen more in the past)

I feel shocked, is this the proper way to do it anywhere on this planet?

Maybe I just need sleep.


Might I recommend “Medicine” from this post

If that doesn’t put you to sleep, at least you won’t care.

[size=75]btw this is really hard to do as I have “pain killer” in me right now. think medicine light + some whiskey. I wonder what i will feel like tomorrow? I’ll just ask vic-k. He’ll be able to tell me.[/size]

No, not in the English language, anyway. So, you’re perfectly justified in feeling shocked!

Blimey, as far as I can see (I haven’t read all of it as I was somewhat appalled), that entire section on British English is complete nonsense. I have no idea where the person who wrote that got such a poor understanding of British punctuation; certainly he or she can never have read a British grammar book nor even picked up a novel in a British store. The rule for commas and other punctuation with regard to speech marks in British English is the same as in American English, except - I think (I could be wrong about the American) - for one exception. Where the punctuation is part of the speech, or part of a dialogue sentence, it stays within the speech marks, just as in American:

“Hello,” said Adam.
Mary replied, “How are you?”
“Not so bad,” said Adam, “apart from the fact you’re treading on my trachea, of course.”

The exception is where the speech marks indicate a partial quote within an otherwise non-dialogue sentence - in this case, the punctuation will go outside the speech marks (here I think American usage would still put the punctuation inside the speech marks, but I could be wrong there):

After I stepped off his throat, he told me to go “f*** a duck”, so I left it at that.
What is meant by the phrase, “f*** a duck”?

So, basically, I would completely ignore anything else written on that web page too given the wild inaccuracies.

All the best,

:open_mouth: :blush: :open_mouth:

My impression as well, but as I’m Dutch I thought I just misunderstood. I did actually get up and checked my bookcase, browsed through a Shopaholic and Harry Potter book, then found The Mosquito Coast and saw no clear difference. Ofcourse, they Harry Potter one was a American hardcover (which in turn made me wonder if they do ‘translations’ of Harry Potter into US English)

I think the misconception happened by the rule ‘punctuation goes outside quotation marks in British English’. This rule does not apply to dialogue (whole different set of rules), but just to normal sentences. From what I understand, in US English one types:

where in sane British English one writes:

The US way had something to do with the old printers breaking the . if it didn’t have something next to it (a space or a quotation mark).

My best guess is that someone heard of this rule, but didn’t check the dialogue rules, and then tossed it online and then others took over and now the entire US thinks British people do funny stuff with quotation marks and they should receive special attention should they ever go to a US school / university / college.

Oof, glad to be Dutch…



ps. I did notice British books seem to do:

where US books seem to stick to

every single time…

Keith is exactly right. British English really isn’t that confusing!

The “said Harry/Harry said” thing is just author preference and possibly house style, I think. I’m not aware of any grammatical rule on that usage, in either US or UK English.

I fink vose tadpole fingys are a noosens :open_mouth:

Let me provide you “An idiots guide to US punctuation” from a US idiot.

[size=150]Be glad we even bother to use it.[/size]

On a slightly more serious note. It seems to me (2 kids in school 6th and 9th) that “grammar” is no longer taught. I am actually having to fight with the school to get them to accept book reports in on paper over “blog posts of 3 to 4 thoughts or sentences once a week”. To me this is a summation of why grammar is considered a pedantic fetish by the populace. The educational system itself seems to be deprecating the written word.

So if you think we (the mass populace) are lazy and ignorant when it comes to grammar assume you are correct.

[size=85]For the record I think the US is well represented by most US based members of the scriverati. There are two specific member that I think better represent the “mass populace” with our gross misspellings and slaughter of the language. I’ll let you figure out who those two are on your own. [/size]

I’m looking in two books, one english and one american and the difference I can see is this:

“In your dreams,” I told her, believing at first she was but wistful. - american (Cloud Chamber by Michael Dorris)
‘Well, I know her, I’ve seen her, yes,’ said he Duchess. - british (A LIfe Everlasting by Miranda Hearn)

That is,none, except the double/single quotation marks.

While I can understand not slavishly following prescriptive grammar that doesn’t reflect actual usage, or that reflects rules pulled in from other languages that don’t properly apply, I am appalled that the reaction has swung so far away from it that grammar is optional and IM-speak is becoming permissible in school assignments under the guise of connecting to students “in their own language”.

I find most internet fora painful to read for this reason. And, as one commenter on Making Light (a highly literate blog started by some Tor editors, for those who aren’t familiar) mentioned some time ago, our linguistic ability reflects what we read: if we frequently read text edited to the standards of good grammar, our writing will use good grammar; if we rarely read, our writing isn’t as likely to use good grammar; if we frequently read poor grammar, our writing will use poor grammar. That commenter specifically said, and a few others agreed, that their writing skills, both spelling and grammar, had decreased since they started reading sloppy blog posts and comments regularly.

Mange - actually, I hate the way most English books use single quotations. It’s a publishing convention only - Brits write and type using double quotes the same as Americans, but these get changed to single quote marks for publishing purposes. An English teacher I had in high school told us that this was to save ink during the war - I like that explanation but have no idea whether it is true. It seems very silly that we write in the correct manner (double quotes for dialogue) only to have this converted to single quotes in print…

I think that the example that inspired the thread presents a special problem that is not actually faced by such examples as these. The case is a cross between your first two sentence examples. To see the issue, let’s say you want to give us the Mary-replied line, but you want the quoted part up front and the ‘Mary replied’ to tag after. Now, what do you do? What Mary says /needs/ its own punctuation mark, namely, the question mark, and this runs interference with the felt need for (or assumed requirement of) an interceding comma. So, you get:

“How are you?”, Mary replied.

instead of something like

“How are you?” Mary replied.

I think it is not hard to see how someone who has the comma rule hammered in could get into a quandary about how to handle the case and end up figuring that the former is the “proper” thing to do.

Assuming the latter form to be correct [Does anyone actually remember being taught anything on this particular point?], then this is a rule exception that lots of people probably just don’t know about. Namely, if the quoted speech demands its own end punctuation–as in a query or shriek–then the intervening comma is elided.

I suppose most people think of standards of punctuation as a set of arbitrary conventions, rather than as conventions each with a particular purpose. So, when they encounter funny situations, they have no means to reason what the right way to do must be. And this leads to the kind of mistake that inspired this thread. Test question: “So, why is an intervening comma called for in those cases in which it is called for, and not in the cases in which it is not?” he asked.


I’m not really sure of the problem there. I’ve never seen anyone add a comma after the speechmarks in that case - including the 7-10 year olds that I taught for the past three years. If the punctuation is part of the actual speech, then it goes inside the speechmarks. So, if what Mary says has a full stop, then it will go inside the speechmarks (or be turned into a comma). If the punctuation is part of the original sentence, then it belongs outside the speechmarks. If the former, then the punctuation already provides the sentence break within the speechmarks, so adding a second mark is superfluous (and incorrect).

In the case you give of the “Mary replied” part going after the quote, there is no difference.

“How are you?” Mary replied.
“I’m okay,” said John.

If you took the explanation on that site to its logical conclusion, in the latter sentence you would end up with nonsense such as this:

“I’m okay,”, said John.

I think anyone can see that the above is not only wrong but hideous (it pained me just to type it).

At any rates, if someone is confused by something like this, all they need to do is take a glance at an actual book…

(It’s early and the kids have the Mr. Men on very loud so excuse the poor explanation.)

All the best,

Once again, Keith beats me to it (clearly I need to get up earlier on a Sunday). I don’t think anyone with a decent knowledge of grammar would think

is in any way correct. And it’s not an exception, either - it’s all down to whether or not the punctuation already exists within the quotes, and is a case I specifically remember being taught in grammar lessons at junior school.

By the way, not all UK books use single quotes for dialogue.

Checking a few books which are easily to hand, it seems to be split 75/25: ALTERED CARBON, NEUROMANCER, THE RECRUIT, SPARES, IRON COUNCIL, CONTRACT, SCEPTICISM INC and Hemingway’s FIRST FORTY-NINE STORIES use single quotes, while FOUCAULT’S PENDULUM, SPOOK COUNTRY, STORMBREAKER and NORTHERN LIGHTS all use double quotes. These are all UK editions, of course.

Can’t be so simple, really, since what Mary said did not literally include any punctuation, right? The exclamation mark is just a shorthand way of conveying something about how Mary said what she said.

And anyway, if you thought exclamation points were actually part of things people say, then by the same token, I guess you would have to allow that periods are actually part of what people say, and in that case, if the rule you suggest were operative, it looks like people who make complete statements ought to be quoted with trailing periods, as in the monstrosity

 [*] "I'm out of here." John said.

But it ain’t like that.

So, there is some complicated rule here, surely.


I had no thought to defend the guy on the web site, but I can’t quite see how you would get

“I’m okay,”, said John.

out of what he says there. Are we supposed to think that the initial comma is part of what John said? I am trying to imagine how John could say he is okay in such a way as to make a comma be part of what he said. The mind boggles!


P.S. By the way, Tim North’s answer to my test question is that the intervening comma (in a well-formed case) is there to “separate what was said from who said it.” But since the quotation marks would already be doing that job, we know that his is a wrong answer.

Whilst the punctuation may not literally be a part of something spoken, it is a written convention to show how it is spoken. Or, rather, the punctuation is part of the “inner” sentence. If you take away the verbal phrase and just write the dialogue, it would require punctuation. You would never write:

How are you

Of course not. You would write:

How are you?

So, because the punctuation belongs to that sentence, it belongs inside the speech marks:

“How are you?” said Mary.

If you look on the website, the guy further says that this is correct:

“Hello there!”, said John.

If that were correct, then in the case of there being a full stop instead of an exclamation mark, my extrapolation would be true - but of course it’s not.

It is a written convention to turn a period into a comma in a quote that has a verbal phrase following it, so I’m not sure what the confusion is there.

In general, I think this is all straightforward and I’m a little surprised that there is anything to debate…

All the best,