The Unholy Trinity: Periods, Commas, and Quotation Marks
Well, hello readers. The other day one of my grammar devotees asked, "CG, what grammar misuse irks you the most?" The CG sees so many grammar crimes everyday, it's hard to pick one single "favorite." I've been pondering that question ever since.
After days of careful deliberation (broken only by watching occasional episodes of "Absolutely Fabulous" on Oxygen), I finally arrived at an answer. And it's an answer that may strike you as less than monumental. Number One on my Bad-Grammar Hit Parade is when people use periods and commas incorrectly with quotation marks.
The rule is simple, but constantly abused:
In America, periods and commas go inside the quotation marks.
It doesn't matter if the quoted material is a sentence. It doesn't matter if the quoted material is a group of words. It doesn't matter if the quoted material is just a single word. It doesn't matter if it seems illogical; that's just the way it is. Periods and commas go inside the quotation marks, always, period. (Ha ha.)
Are you saying, "CG, you must be wrong. I'm reading a book and the commas and periods are outside the quotation marks." Is your book French? British? Anything other than American? There's your answer. Note that I started this rule with the phrase "In America. . ." In every other country, periods and commas go outside the quotation marks. But guess what kids? We're in America, so they have to go inside or you're doing it wrong. (Unless you're a lawyer, in which case you have my sympathy and should do the world a favor and write as little as possible.)
Here are some examples:
- The evil clown continuted his ridiculous routine until I said, "Laugh and dance around all you want, Mr. Happy Pants. The children know that the Devil is your master."
- No matter how much I questioned him about the missing pot roast, the dachshund's cryptic answer was always, "Woooof."
- The lyrics to the Abba song, "Dancing Queen," are NOT "You can dance, you can die."
Even though the quoted material--sentence, single word, group of words--is different in each example, the commas and periods are always inside the quotation marks.
As I mentioned earlier, there are other rules concerning punctuation (colons, question marks, etc.) and quotation marks. But since those aren't all as cut and dried as periods and commas, I'll discuss them in another column.
I hope you've learned more from this discourse than just that periods and commas always go inside quotation marks. The other lesson I'd like you to take to heart is: unless you're absolutely sure, look it up. Very few people--including the CG--have all the rules of grammar and punctuation memorized. It's always better to take that extra time before something is final, rather than having it be in print and incorrect. Grammar and punctuation errors are not minor (nor are they less important than content), and anyone who tries to tell you that they don't matter doesn't know beans about what constitutes good writing.
Until next time,
don't forget that "good grammar is always in fashion."