Sunday, December 30, 2012

Quotations and Punctuation...I'm going rogue.

American grammar is quite goofy when it comes to how punctuation interacts with quotations.  The placement of the period in the following sentence is said to be grammatically correct:

1A)  George threw out his socks, claiming they were "poisoned."

Does the placement of that period look blatantly wrong to you as well?  I contend the following should be considered correct:

1B)  George threw out his socks, claiming they were "poisoned".

Here's an alternate example:

2A)  Cindy explained, "It's his baby, not yours."

Compared to:

2B)  Cindy explained, "It's his baby, not yours".

Now check out the following examples, both of which are considered grammatically correct with respect to the placement of the question mark:

3)  After slipping in the aisle, Gunther inquired, "Who the fuck put lubricant all over the floor?"  

4)  Was Tammy correct when she claimed, "the three things that never stop growing on a man are his ears, nose, and testicles"?

The sensibility of question mark protocol is encouraging, but we're not out of the woods yet.  Consider two final grammatically correct examples that throw more chaos into the mix with respect to the placement of commas and periods:

5)  Out of a possible "10", Haley's breasts would have to be considered a "12".

6)  Jared wasn't "feeling well," so he put the dildo in the box marked with an "X".

So in summary, this is a complete clusterfuck, and frankly I'm not going to stand for it.  From this point forward, I'm going to place all periods as the last item in a sentence, and the quotes can go "fuck themselves".


  1. "Quoth the raven, 'nevermore'."

  2. I suppose you have to keep in mind the purpose of quotation marks... They give credit to a phrase, indicating that the writer was not the one that said it. So, really, you should look at it as what and what you are not giving credit for.

    In 1A and B I would have to agree with you. This appears right to me, as George probably used "poisoned" in a sentence, instead of just throwing the socks out and simply saying one word about it. In other words, the word "poisoned" was used by George, but not the ".".

    Take for an example my previous sentence. What the hell! Did I just make a horrible mistake? Although that looks extremely wrong, that is the way that it technically should be. You see, I was giving credit to Zack for the ".", but I still needed to end my own sentence.

    However, even though that is the way it should be, it does look ridiculous. People do not do that for a good reason. Still, even though the second period is not required, you still recognize it.

    So, if two periods exist, yet only one should be used, you have to decide which is more important to the emphasis of the sentence. If you quote but one word from somewhere, was that word alone? In most cases, a one word quote is from a larger, complete sentence. So, if you are not quoting the entire sentence, you should not quote its punctuation. So, Zack's argument is quite "valid".

    The opposite is also true, and complete sentences being quoted should also have their punctuation quoted.

    The child in the gas mask cried, "Let me in mummy, I'm scared of the bombs!"

    The child in the gas mask cried, "Let me in mummy, I'm scared of the bombs".

    What is more important? The scared tone of the child, or ending the sentence? You can't just have two punctuation marks, as I said earlier. Even though it would seem unnecessary (You are ending two sentences,) it would be ridiculous. It's obvious which one of those makes more sense, but which one is right?

    What about questions quoting questions? Though this would not be very common, it would get confusing fast.

    Did he really ask "Why are you here?"

    Did he really ask "Why are you here"?

    Again, it would depend on the tone you are trying to convey, but you could get by either way.

    As Zack said, "this is a complete clusterfuck".

    As Zack said, "this is a complete clusterfuck, and I'm not going to stand for it."

    Really, writing with quotes would be much simpler if both the punctuation marks were included. It would look ridiculous, but it would be much easier.

    1. From what I gather, in the double question scenario, the grammatically correct thing to do is to put only one question mark inside the quotes. But one could certainly make the argument that such protocol is confusing and illogical, and that the more sensible thing to do in these situations would be to use double punctuation...

      Did he really ask, "Why are you here?"?

      Yes, that looks quite atrocious, but maybe it only looks terrible because we've been conditioned to see it as terrible...maybe if we start teaching our students to utilize double punctuation, within a few generations it will look awkward and weird when not using double punctuation.

  3. Consider this example from Unix:

    To remove the x directory, type "rm -rf x ."

    Typing this command as-is (with the dot and space) will irreversibly remove the *current* directory, potentially destroying valuable data.

    In my experience people do not follow this weird grammar rule in technical context.

  4. I know this post is old, but I thought I'd throw in my 2c because... well, just because I'm a pedant, and any chance to clear up some grammar questions is good.

    1A) George threw out his socks, claiming they were "poisoned."
    Incorrect: attributed/indirect speech or inverted commas go inside the full stop. In this case, it's indirect speech.

    2A) Cindy explained, "It's his baby, not yours."
    Correct: direct speech has the quotation marks outside the full stop.

    Did he really ask, "Why are you here?"?
    Incorrect: only one question mark is used. And since the entire sentence is a question, it goes outside the quotation marks.

    I'm not sure if I've misread the tone of your post, but I hope you take my (Australian) 2c with the good humour it is intended. :)

    1. Hmmm. I suppose 1A might be a tricky example, because although indirect speech does not require quotation marks to be used at all, within the hypothetical scenario of 1A, the peculiar nature of George's claim can be seen to have compelled the speaker to quote the single word poisoned, so as to make it clear that it was the exact word said by George. Having said that, with respect to the interaction of quotations and periods in general, US grammar is actually different from British (and presumably Australian) in that periods always go inside the ending quotation mark, no matter what.

      Regarding the sentence - Did he really ask, "Why are you here?"? - I was just suggesting that double question marks would make logical sense…but I am aware that only one question mark is supposed to be used in such cases. However, it is my understanding that when a question is being asked which itself ends with a quoted question, as in that example, proper protocol is actually to put the question mark inside the quotation marks. Are the rules of grammar possibly different on this point in the US vs Australia?

      All of the above aside, I contend that adopting a global rule where every sentence must end with either a period, question mark, or exclamation point, regardless of quotes, would greatly simplify matters. I fail to see the advantage or benefit of the current complicated system.

      By the way, I'll have you know that I had absolutely no idea what a "full stop" or an "inverted comma" was when first reading your comment. :) So for the US readers who might be as confused as I was, but who won't be compelled to research the meaning of such terms, let it be known that a full stop refers to a period, and inverted commas to quotations!