Friday, May 1, 2009

The Trials and Tribulations of Quotation Marks

If you're not a punctuation and grammar nerd like I am, stop reading immediately. This post will bore you to death.

For the last few months I've been struggling with quotation marks. Yes, quotation marks.

More specifically, how to punctuate around quotation marks.

Punctuating speech is no problem. It was other quotation marks that were driving me bonkers. For instance:

We all like singing "America the Beautiful".


We all like singing "America the Beautiful."

Which is right? Does the period go inside or outside the quotation marks?

Serious question.

I'd read somewhere that ALL punctuation should go INSIDE quotation marks. But this rule went against my grain. It didn't make sense to me. When I wrote, I still found myself sticking those periods, question marks, and exclamation points OUTSIDE the quotation marks.

Again, I'm not talking about speech here. I know you always put punctuation INSIDE the quotation marks in speech, except in the following situation:

Did he say, "Good morning"?

But I digress....

I decided to go to old, faithful, always-available Wikipedia to find the answer to this question about quotation marks. And what I discovered knocked my socks off.

I have quotation mark confusion because, while in Hong Kong, I went to British school for nine years. Yes! It's true.

Here's a quote from Wikipedia:

The traditional convention in American English is for commas, periods, and question marks to be included inside the quotation marks, regardless of whether they are part of the quoted sentence, whereas the British style places them inside or outside the quotation marks according to whether or not the punctuation is part of the quoted phrase. The American rule is derived from typesetting while the British rule is grammatical.

This new-found knowledge is balm to my anxiety-laden grammatical soul. I know I'm American now (sort of), so I need to get used to the American way (even if it was "derived from typesetting" and does not make logical sense).

I also have to get used to the American way of not including commas wherever I would naturally take a breath. That's also a difficult British habit to break.

Still, it's nice to know I'm not "crazy".

Oops ... I mean, "crazy."


  1. You can't blame it on your British schooling. I have always had the EXACT same questions (and frankly made my own grammatical rules to follow what I think should be right) and was never formally schooled a single day outside of good 'ole American public school... but then again, maybe that's the problem. And don't you find it disturbing that our grammar rules were created for ease of type-setting and NOT because it adds to the meaning of the written words?!?! Why not scrap punctuation all together as that would REALLY make type-setting easier?!?!

  2. Typesetting?! that's so silly!!

  3. Okay, so it isn't just me! And I can't blame the confusion on my British and American education. I hadn't even studied punctuation, yet, when I moved to Texas. Okay, I knew what a full stop and a comma were, but that's about it. ;)