On Writing: Let’s Talk Grammar and Punctuation for a While
(Post Number Ten)
“The Quirky Quotation Marks”
“What can I say about quotation marks?” Marsha says. “If you are a fiction writer, you need to master the technique of using quotation marks. However, over the last few years, many publishing companies of nonfiction works have asked authors to incorporate ‘fiction’ techniques in their manuscript. That entails using quotation marks, mostly in dialogue, correctly.”
Of the many times I’ve seen quotation marks used incorrectly, the following example is the most misuse I’ve noticed:
Bad Example: Bert yelled to his son Raymond in the back yard, “Throw the ball, son”.
Folks tend to want to put that period AFTER the quotation marks at the end, but it is incorrect. The proper usage is as such:
Good Example One: Bert yelled to his son Raymond in the back yard, “Throw the ball, son.”
The same goes for the use of quotation marks with question marks and exclamation points:
Good Example Two: After lunch Eva asked her friend Bonnie, “Would you like to go shopping?”
Good Example Three: When Bobby saw his puppy fall off the sofa, he yelled, “Watch out, Scruffy!”
Another frequent abuse of quotation marks occurs in a series when words that need the marks are listed. The following example shows how the list should be correctly written:
Good Example Four: Last year, our writers’ conference featured workshops entitled “Write an Irresistible Query,” “Kiddie Lit for Toddlers,” and “It’s Time for an Agent.”
But what about double quotes in the same sentence? You might be thinking, How do I write them? Well, here’s how the CMOS says to use double quotes:
Good Example Five: Barney said to his cousin Elmo, “You must have heard cousin Heathcliffe say, ‘We’re going to the shore on Friday.’ ” (Note the period, the single quote, a space, and a double quote.)
I’m sure it is no surprise to you that there are exceptions to using quotation marks with other punctuation marks. The English language is one big exception, if you ask me!
Anyway, here are some examples of when the quotation marks go INSIDE the ending punctuation mark:
Example One: Harry subscribed to “The Pennsylvania Magazine”; he loves the pictures. (A work that needs quotes around its title)
Example Two: The sergeant asked Private Botting to state his “name and serial number”; he forgot his serial number and got in big trouble. (A phrase that is a direct quote)
Example Three: Which of Shakespeare’s characters said, “All the world’s a stage”? (A question asked with a quoted statement within it)
Example Four: Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3). (The period follows the Bible reference.)
Example Five: I can’t believe Pauline said, “I’m leaving tomorrow at five in the morning”! (The exclamatory statement was made by “I” not “Pauline.” Therefore, the exclamation point comes AFTER Pauline’s quote.)
Example Six: How can teachers motivate students to learn who constantly say, “I hate school”? (The entire sentence is a question; therefore the question mark comes AFTER the quotation mark at the end.)
There are other uses of quotation marks and exceptions, but I’m thinking this blog is enough to confuse even the best writers in the land. If you have doubts, go online to the CMOS and check out your quotation mark question firsthand.
Next time we’ll look at perky parentheses and bold brackets, which will just about wrap up our series of blogs offering punctuation advice for writers. Then we’ll move on to another venue in the fascinating world of writing and publishing.