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Monday, May 30, 2011

Inside or Outside?

Anyone trying to figure out how to punctuate quotations correctly?

Here's the rule for punctuating quotations in your writing, or what I call the "Livin' La Vida Loca" Rule since Ricky Martin sings........♪ Upside, inside, out, Livin' la vida loca... ♪

Place a period or a comma inside the quotation marks. 

      "As a matter of fact," she added, "it's warm enough to swim today."

Place a semicolon or a colon outside.  

      Gloria promised, "I'll certainly go to the dance with you"; however, that was three weeks ago.

     You must admit one thing about deliveries marked "rush order":  they always do arrive, eventually.

Place a question mark or an exclamation point inside when it is part of the quotation -- otherwise outside.

     "Who was that on the phone?" my mother asked.

     "Kill the umpire!" shouted the crowd.

     Didn't you say yesterday, "I'll never be late again"?

     Get out of here with your "I'm awfully sorry"!


  1. Another way I think is helpful to figure out the question mark (and exclamation point) is to ask yourself if the whole sentence is a question (if yes, then it goes outside), or if only the quotation itself is the question (in this case, it goes inside the quotation marks).

  2. I have a related quandary.

    Please punctuate the following sentence correctly; because I don't know how to do it, I'd opt to re-work it:

    When asked if they wanted to get together with me for lunch Cindy replied Yes anytime Mike answered It depends which day you are free and Janice moaned Im not free for the entire month

  3. When asked if they wanted to get together with me for lunch, Cindy replied, "Yes. Anytime." Mike answered, "It depends which day you are free," and Janice moaned, "I'm not free for the entire month."

    (That's how I'd do it. However, someone might say Mike was questioning rather than stating, but I disagree as it says "answered." The only other thing to quibble over might be that if it weren't really a paragraph, each speaker would begin a new paragraph; however, Mike and Janice are in the same sentence so perhaps you would want to separate them in this instance. Once again, from the context, I'd disagree though and leave it in one paragraph. Also, I could see punctuating, "Yes, anytime." The problem here, however, is the rule states to use a comma after an introductory word like yes if it is followed by a sentence; "anytime" is not really a sentence so that's why I did it with a period.) Questions or other comments?

  4. I was hoping to keep it to one sentence with a complex series of the three responses, to demonstrate whether one ever uses semicolons to separate compound or complex items in a series (or even if there is a series of items where each has an appositive)... and if so, does the placement of quotation marks follow the same rules?

    Another possible topic for you: with wider use of the Internet, and international business and social networking, I have seen a lot of blurring between British English and American English. Do you see any rules [that one or the other side of the Atlantic uses] becoming less absolute because of this?

    For instance, I was taught that when one reads aloud-- or writes (as on a bank check/cheque)-- numbers, one uses "and" for the decimal point, but never says "and" between whole numbers; therefore, 1.1 is said "One and one tenth" (not "one point one") while 134 is said "One hundred thirty-four" (not "one hundred and thirty-four," or "A hundred thirty-four" either). When trying to research which way is correct, there doesn't seem to be much agreement online. Is that perhaps a function of formality and Brit vs. American more than of which journalism style guide?

  5. Here are two semicolon rules then that might interest you:

    1. A semicolon (rather than a comma) may be needed to separate independent clauses if there are commas within the clauses.

    Ex. In the seventeenth century, the era of such distinguished prose writers as Sir Thomas Browne, John Donne, and Jeremy Taylor, the balanced compound sentence using commas and semicolons reached a high degree of perfection and popularity; but the tendency of many writers today is to use a fast-moving style with shorter sentences and fewer commas and semicolons.

    Here's the other one:

    2. Use a semicolon between items in a series if the items contain commas.

    Ex. The three top seniors in this year's class have the following four-year averages: Marvin Chan, 94.8; Ruth Ann Cummins, 93.5; and Joan Dorf, 92.8.

    So, technically, I would think you could also punctuate your sentence thus:

    When asked if they wanted to get together with me for lunch, Cindy replied, "Yes, anytime"; Mike answered, "It would depend which day you are free"; and Janice moaned, "I'm not free for the entire month."