May 20, 2011

"How about never? Is never good for you?"

About moving the period outside of the quotation marks.

ADDED: People in the comments are talking about what makes sense. I say:
It's not about making sense. It's about aesthetics. What feels right? We are accustomed to the quotation mark holding and containing the period and if the period is exiled from that embrace, we will have the uneasy feeling that it might roll away.

58 comments:

MisterBuddwing said...

Did they really say, "Is never good for you"?

You will note, I placed the question mark outside the quotation marks, because my question incorporates the quote - the way I was taught, it would be incorrect to write:

Did they really say, "Is never good for you?"

WV: flogic. (Short for "flawed logic," I suppose?)

Scott M said...

I was wondering about this just the other day. Honestly, I was not aware there was an American/English split on the rule, but it's an interesting grammatical dilemma. I've been doing it the same way as MBW above for years, but since I started using/blogging/commenting online, I've noticed I tend to put quotation outside the quotation marks more often than not.

How would this affect writing dialog in fiction?

Hagar said...

It isn't just the English. The rest of the world does too.

And I think the world has it right. The punctuation mark is not part of the quote.

Leon said...

i would only put the punctuation in the quotation marks if that punctuation was part of the original quote. then again i was raised in a British boarding school
leon

that-xmas said...

Putting the punctuation inside of the quotes drives me crazy. Anyone that has done any sort of computer programming feels the same way. What goes between the quote marks is a literal string attributable to the cited speaker.

For example, do you interpret these two sentences the same way?

Ann Althouse says "I hate men in shorts?"

Ann Althouse says "I hate men in shorts"?

Don't Tread 2012 said...

This perceived 'problem' is not nearly as insidious as the 'Thanks in advance' idiocy.

Skyler said...

It will happen at the same time I stop putting two spaces after a period.

Scott M said...

lol

That should have read, "I've noticed I tend to put punctuation outside the quotation marks more often than not". Even typing the preceding, I naturally put the period inside the quotes out of habit, but it doesn't look right to my interwebz-sense.

Calypso Facto said...

I unilaterally made the move years ago. As soon as I was done being graded on archaic punctuation rules. Punctuation that is not part of the original quote goes outside the quotation marks.

Don't Tread: I find "Thanks in advance" useful sarcasm when dealing with customer service departments that you doubt will act on your request!

Freeman Hunt said...

The English rule makes more sense. I use it when I think it makes whatever I'm writing more easily understood.

The always inside rule is illogical, therefore annoying.

Calypso Facto said...

Of course, reading the sentence fragment I just posted, you may question whether I ever knew anything about proper punctuation at all. Sheesh.

Ann Althouse said...

It's not about making sense. It's about aesthetics. What feels right? We are accustomed to the quotation mark holding and containing the period and if the period is exiled from that embrace, we will have the uneasy feeling that it might roll away.

rhhardin said...

It's really a typeface question considered over more than one character. The British do it like their dental work.

rhhardin said...

The comma isn't part of the either the inside or the outside of the quoted material. It's a convention.

Exceptions are made.

printf("Hello world".\n);

David Smith said...

It's about power...neurotic 19th century American New Englanders felt inferior to Brits, so beginning with Emerson and Webster began using their bully pulpits to force us to have two English dictionaries on our computers to help us realize that while realise is the right way to spell it, it's more patriotic to spell it The American Way.

From my experience transcribing late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century authors, the transition occurred after WWI - I choose to blame Wilson and Dewey and their clique of bloody-minded Prussian worshipers, but that may be going too far.

PITA. "Seriously"!

rhhardin said...

I'd like to stamp out the sense that quotes are to be used in summary indirect statement, such as He said no.

AllenS said...

How about those crazy Spanish people?. They'll start a sentence with a question mark. Not only that, but it will be upside down!

John Burgess said...

Althouse: "It's not about making sense. It's about aesthetics."

So, form does rule over function! Glad to know that.

virgil xenophon said...

I guess I'm a schizoid practitioner. I'm with Ann about the visual aesthetics regarding the period, so place it inside, yet I increasingly tend to place all question-marks and exclamation points outside unless part of original quote.

Fen said...

Ann Althouse says "I hate men in shorts?"

Ann is asking if she hates men in shorts. Likely in response to someone stating that she does, is in "Really? You think I hate men in shorts?"


Ann Althouse says "I hate men in shorts"?

You are asking if Ann said that.

LawGirl said...

Althouse said:

It's not about making sense. It's about aesthetics. What feels right? We are accustomed to the quotation mark holding and containing the period and if the period is exiled from that embrace, we will have the uneasy feeling that it might roll away.

This.

To me, it looks off-balance and vaguely incomplete when the period (or, in appropriate cases, question mark) is outside the end quotation mark. It looks about as aesthetically pleasing as putting preceding punctuation INside the beginning quotation mark, like this:

I said ", here is a sentence with poor punctuation".

Ew.

Then again, I am called a punctuation heretic because I prefer the serial comma and put only one space between sentences whenever I'm using any font except Courier (which is always).

virgil xenophon said...

Allen S/

I quite like the Spanish practice. Alerts one mental note-wise to the nature of the upcoming "conversation" and the use of two at beginning and end presents a nice visual symmetry. Or maybe I just like it because, being a uniquely Spanish practice, it is satisfyingly "exotic."/"exotic".

Fred4Pres said...

If you like gay marriage, I predict you will like changing punctuation.

Kirby Olson said...

I'm used to putting it inside the "quote" and don't want it to change.

The key phrase in the text was "since the 60s." This is another way to try to make the outside world cohere with the nonsensical whims of the hippies who wanted everything to make sense while they sat around smoking pot and spreading sexual diseases, smelling "natural."

Fred4Pres said...

If you start spelling harbor, point, color or other good American words the English way...

you are probably gay. Or a person that names new housing subdivisions and shopping malls.

Suzy said...

I say function rules over form. I do whatever makes sense to me. I'm also such a radical writer that sometimes I'll end a sentence in a preposition. This quote from Winston Churchill be damned: "Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put." Or is the quote actually, "That is a rule up with which I will not put"?

drudge_illiterati said...

"...put only one space between sentences whenever I'm using any font except Courier (which is always)."

If you wouldn't put punctuation is parenthesis, you shouldn't put punctuation in quotes.

"...makes sense..." Is that a euphemism for "rational".

The period did not belong in the quote.

edutcher said...

The issue is what makes it most clear.

Outside.

Ann Althouse said...

if the period is exiled from that embrace

Google must have caved on something. She's getting romantic.

Phil 3:14 said...

It's not about making sense. It's about aesthetics. What feels right?

Professor, several have already given great example of how this rule blocks clear communication. The written word is not about "how it looks". Its about the concepts and images its trying to convey.

So when will I start putting the punctuation inside the quotes, how about "never"?

JAL said...

I'm voting present.

No, actually, I am usually a stickler for the American style (inside the quotes). OTOH, there are sometimes when it really seems like it looks / feels better outside the quotes. The example is a good -- example.

As for Leon @7:53 -- yes, that makes sense, but don't the Brits (and "the rest of the world") *always* put the punctuation mark outside?

Think parentheses. If the comment is included as part of the sentence, the punctuation goes outside the last round bracket. If the comment inside the parentheses is a complete thought / sentence, the period goes inside the parentheses.

I have been noticing more hybridization.

Probably due to global warming.

LawGirl said...

drudge illiterati says:

LawGirl said "...put only one space between sentences whenever I'm using any font except Courier (which is always)."

If you wouldn't put punctuation is parenthesis, you shouldn't put punctuation in quotes.


Nope. That's a different convention altogether.

Quotation marks and parentheses serve different purposes. Parentheses contain non-essential information and serve to separate material from the rest of the sentence. Being separate, they do not contain end punctuation unless they encompass the entire sentence.(Some people like to put complete thoughts in parentheses because, apparently, those thoughts are non-essential.)

Quotation marks serve an entirely different function. They do not contain non-essential information at all, but rather to set apart material that is quoted from others and for emphasis, among other purposes.

JAL said...

Yeah Skyler!

I still put two spaces after a period even though some computer programs eat that up.

It give a VISUAL CUE that the thought changes.

Computers are the number one cause of some of the ugliest graphics in the history of mankind. Any idiot can cut and paste from a veritable cornucopia of good and bad graphics available online.

The written page has a graphical impact also and running stuff together is a killer for the content too.

Look how hard it is to read people who don't take visual breaths in making their comments.

The space-space makes sense-sense.

JAL said...

@LawGirl Quotation marks serve an entirely different function. They do not contain non-essential information at all

Err... sometimes they are used for decorative or to make a "point."

{cough cough}

PatCA said...

No, keep it the same! More than aesthetics, grammar is a way to structure your ideas so that other people can understand them. Like the goofy non-sexist writing movement which has damaged writing and understanding so profoundly, quote marks are part of a system that took centuries to refine.

What next, driving on the wrong side of the road??

Leave grammar alone!

Donna B. said...

Aesthetics. Really? Clarity in written language is necessary for a number of reasons more important than aesthetics, but I suggest that a lack of clarity is inherently ugly.

Any time my writing is not governed by AP, CMOS, or MLA martinets, I choose to follow APA style.

http://www2.smumn.edu/deptpages/~tcwritingcenter/APA/APA_Punctuation.pdf

LawGirl said...

Err... sometimes they are used for decorative or to make a "point."

{cough cough}


Yeah. That's another way of saying they are used for "emphasis":

. . . set apart material that is quoted from others and for emphasis, among other purposes."

Bart said...

Buddwing:

Did they really say, "Is never good for you?"

Should that not most properly be written: "Did they really say, 'Is never good for you?'"? ...?

reader_iam said...

"I have my opinions on this, but the bottom line is that I will use whatever style manual plus individual style sheet you so designate so long as you are paying me."

--reader_iam's philosophy of editing, adopted a couple of decades ago

Russ Wood said...

So, you're NOT worried about the question mark sliding away, the colon hopping away, or the semi-colon limping away?

reader_iam said...

I'm tempted to post and link to a picture of the bookshelf of style manuals I've amassed since the '80s, but that would require remembering my Flickr password. Lucky you: You're spared!

Kirk Parker said...

Suzy,

Upon being "corrected" for having a preposition-final sentence, Churchill responded "This is the sort of nonsense up with which I shall not put!"

No word as to whether he was naked at the time...

Lem said...

I suspect I'm not read much here do to my sparse punctuation..

I drag most of my "punctuations" tied to the rear bumper like this ...

Coketown said...

I write mostly fiction, so anytime I use quotations is with dialogue, in which the punctuation is part of the quote. Should we start using two punctuation marks? One to finalize the quote and one to finalize the entire sentence? Example:

Ann says, "I hate men in shorts?"?
Ann says, "I hate men in shorts."?
Ann says, "I hate men in shorts?".

So many logical possibilities! And it also looks ghastly. Or should the rule be that if the original quote contains punctuation it can function to also punctuate the original sentence? Example:

Ann says, "I hate men in shorts."

But if the quoted portion didn't contain punctuation we must convey that a portion was omitted and also finalize the sentence? Example:

Ann says, "I hate men in shorts..."?

See? This is why English has so many stupid rules that infuriates the entire English-learning world. Everything was going fine, we had our system and the Commonwealth had theirs, and now some idiots from Salon want to mess it all up. Any grievances against the Imperial measurement system while we're at it?

I'm going to go with Ann here. It's about aesthetics. And I'm skeptical that punctuation conveys any logical nuance that can't be recovered by a better sentence construction.

Lem said...

..how about red much?

Coketown said...

This reminds me of a funny joke I heard. What's the difference between a cat and a compound sentence?

A cat's claws are at the end its paws while a compound sentence's pause is at the end of its clause.

It's a lot funny when you hear it instead of read it.

Oligonicella said...

@Hagar

He asked, "It's not part of the quote?" "No", I said.

Richard Dolan said...

Small things have a way of becoming all consuming. For some, it's the American rule that the period and comma go inside the quotation marks, while other punctuation is outside. For others, it's never splitting an infinitive. For still others, it's using the possessive case for the subject of gerunds. One could go on, as no doubt all you ones already know.

Anyone who had nuns in elementary school will be a stickler for all of those rules, as will lovers of Latin from which many of these rules (but not the punctuation ones) came. There may be a large overlap between those groups. But these concerns are probably Greek to all you public school ones.

It's tradition framing how we view the aesthetics of a printed page. Once the eye is trained, it's slow to accept change. You see it, too, in one's reaction to different styles of poetry.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

@Calypso

"Don't Tread: I find "Thanks in advance" useful sarcasm when dealing with customer service departments that you doubt will act on your request!"

Precisely, it is insidious because the presumption is that no matter the request, it will be honored.

Blog entry covering ‘thanks in advance’.

Michael said...

And what about parentheses? If a sentence ends in a parenthetical fragment, does the period go at the end or inside the right paren? I vote for logical punctuation except for periods after quotes or parens - for your reason; it looks like the period will roll away.

Blue@9 said...

It's not about making sense. It's about aesthetics. What feels right? We are accustomed to the quotation mark holding and containing the period and if the period is exiled from that embrace, we will have the uneasy feeling that it might roll away.

I don't think separation anxiety is a valid argument for grammatical rules.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

I'm for function and form. In some cases, the punctuation inside the quotes just looks illogical, as many have pointed out here. That is bad aesthetics. It's also poor communication. So I put the punctuation inside when that makes a clear, complete, accurate quote; and outside when that makes the quote clear and accurate.

Off topic: the Churchill quote referenced above led me to formulate Martin's Rule of Search Porn: "There is no internet search that will not eventually lead to pictures of nude women." I was looking for the precise quote, so I typed "Winston Churchill preposition" into Google. The third hit (on that day) was some site where people traded nude pictures. One of the members there used that quote as his sig. Since the page ranked number 3 on Google, I have to assume he posted a lot of pictures.

wv: theast -- Where the sun rises.

Phil 3:14 said...

We are accustomed to the quotation mark holding and containing the period


FREE THE PERIOD!

windbag said...

It depends. First post by MisterDuddwing covered the difference fairly well. I am a grammar and punctuation Nazi. My sister and I actually argue over stylization, each with our college grammar handbooks in hand, shouting and insulting each other.

Computers and the Internet, however, have dulled my sensitivity to the whole business. Properly expressing oneself simply isn't valued--or noticed--anymore.

I'm still trying to break the habit of putting two spaces after a sentence when writing on-line. I don't think that one will die easily.

David Smith said...

But these concerns are probably Greek to all you public school ones.

That's "public school" in the Yank sense, no?

Dead Julius said...

It's not about making sense.

If we all stop making sense, we'll turn into nothing but a bunch of "talking heads".

Writ Small said...

Copy-paste will doom the interior punctuation.

For training, your password will be "6*:7dfIj,."

Scott said...

It is about aesthetics, but aesthetics have changed.

In the age of machine code, double-quote marks are no longer merely devices for demarcating precisely attributed speech in text set for reading. They are also used for containing string literals.

If you read or write code, you are aware that putting the period inside the double quotes doesn't look right aesthetically.

So, that's how the period migrated to the outside of the double quotes.

Penny said...

"So, that's how the period migrated to the outside of the double quotes."

Ohhhh....Sounds almost Darwinian with the migration and all. SCIENCEY, even. lol

Look, I was reading Althouse earlier today..and in reverse chronological order. Try it sometimes! Honestly. It's like reading a little bit of history upside down.

Anyway, I was first reading about the gay marriage approval shift of ten points in ONE YEAR! And now here I am, just two posts down...in reverse chronological reading... and that damned period is about to "ROLL AWAY" without those "quotes" to lock it in...for aesthetic reasons, no less!

ha ha Nice try, Althouse, but no cigar.

Yeah, you can get a lot of people to politely talk about grammar rules that no longer seem to apply, and in fact, no one really cared how this discussion might turn out, because everyone was just going to go ahead and do as they wished. Some to follow grammatical rules, and some not.

Of course the same can be said for how gay people choose to deal with marital rules. Except...that isn't how it's playing out. Gay people want a LAW about marital rules.

As a conventional grammar person, you might also want a LAW to, oh hell, I don't know? Keep that period from running down hill? That sounds reasonable. After all, there is much to be said for people being held to some basic understanding of grammar rules in America. If we let that period "go", or worse yet, look to England for guidance on matters of punctuation rules, it would seem to me we would end up quite like her?

Can that be good?

Hell, that's almost like going home again!

ha ha

"Going home again" may work for a subset of dropouts or graduates from high school or college, when their "Momma says it's OK". But here's the rub.

Momma didn't make no "LAW" to come home. And Pop is hardly the attorney you'd hire to get out of this jail sentence if she did.

When you make a LAW in America...No period "runs away", and no married couple "couples" without financial consequence.

In a nation of laws, AND MORE LAWS, lawyers are the distribution channel AND the redistribution channel. ha ha

Let me guess? You're feeling LUCKY today.