Grandma's Tales

July 22, 2007

Grammar – 35 Punctuation

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 8:29 pm

Here is a request from a reader.
I have a request. Could you have a post on good punctuation? I consider myself a fairly decent writer, but there are some aspects of punctuation that bother me, mostly regarding quotation marks. For example, let us say that I quote a phrase as part of a question. Also, the phrase forms the last part of the question. Conventional schools of thought indicate that the punctuation mark must also be within quotes, and, to the best of my ability, I try to stick to that. However, a logical dilemma arises. Putting a question or exclamation mark within the quote somewhat modifies it, and may not represent the quote in the manner intended by the writer. I haven’t found any Internet-based sources that indicate what should be done in such a situation, and it leaves me in a quandary.
So, if you could help me out, that’d be fantastic
Here goes, NS.
We will take up quotation marks this time, specific to your question. As you point out, Q marks should preserve the intention of the writer. That should be our foremost aim.
[1] Q marks are used to “set off material that represents spoken or quoted material”, right?
[2] Q marks are also used to highlight titles of short stories, poems and articles.
We in India, have a problem with Q marks simply because we were educated to follow the British system of punctuation (which follows logic) and now read a lot of American writing where the punctuation is not always logical.
The simple rule in the US system is:
Full-stops and commas go inside Q marks. Period. Too bad if this is not logical to that sentence. Example: He said to her, “I love you.” In England this would be:
He said to her, “I love you”.
I now follow the US system for periods and commas within quatation marks. I have had to, since for a while, I taught American students how to write essays.
Example: “You asked me a question,” she said. “And here is my answer.” See that?
What about question marks and exclamation marks?
These are inside the Q marks. the following paragraph I found somewhere makes it clear. Note the marks carefully.
“I don’t care what you think anymore,” she said, jauntily tossing back her hair and looking askance at Edward.
“What do you mean?” he replied.
“What do you mean, ‘What do I mean?'” Alberta sniffed. She was becoming impatient and wished that she were elsewhere.
“You know darn well what I mean!” Edward huffed.
“Have it your way,” Alberta added, “if that’s how you feel.”
What do we find in this conversation?
[1] Q-marks usually go in pairs.
[2] They become single when you need them for a quote within a quote. (“I already spoke to Hari,” she said. “And he said, ‘I care a rap!'”) I find placing three Q marks together a bit awkward and try my best to avoid such sentences.
[3] Question marks and exclamation marks are placed within the Q marks.
[4] Commas are used to set off direct speech. When the direct speech continues after the mention of the speaker, the sentence begins with a lower case letter. (“I was there,” she said, “and saw what happened.”)
[5] Place a full stop (period) and continue the speech and you need to start the speech with a capital letter as you always do. (“I don’t agree with you,” she said. “Because I know it is not true.”)
Now for quotes. When you are quoting someone we know as against some fictional character, you have no business to take liberties with punctuation marks. You just quote verbatim, period. If the quote is: Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!, you reproduce it with the punctuation marks. Your sentence would be:
Rousseau said, “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!” If you want to add, say, an exclamation/question mark to a quote, you write the quote, place all the punctuation marks original to the quote, set it off with the quotation marks  and then add what you want. Look at this: If your sentence is,
Did Rousseau say, “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!”?, that’s how it goes.
Do I answer your question, NS? Please ask for any clarification you need.


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