"Where's That Go?"

by Cherie Tucker

This came from a reader, and it is a punctuation problem that troubles many:

Can you address the whole quotation and where the punctuation goes?  It’s so counterintuitive to me to put the comma within the quotes in a sentence like this: 
I was reading a story, “The Lottery,” when my sister burst into my room. 

Since the comma isn’t a part of the title of the story, it makes more sense to me to have it outside the quotes.  I think the British do it that way, don’t they?
 At any rate, it’s a common mistake that I would love to read about…


You are correct, Brian.  The British put the commas and periods inside or outside the end quotation marks depending on whether the entire passage is a quotation or the quoted bits are just a part of the larger sentence.  The American style, however, is to put all commas and periods inside the final quotation, as you have correctly done in your example.  The same rule applies to single quotation marks within quotations:  “All he wrote was ‘See you,’” she murmured over and over.  Another consideration from The Gregg Reference Manual, Tenth Edition, by William A. Sabin (which every writer should own!) is to avoid confusing a final apostrophe with a single quote.  Dwayne could be heard in the shower, singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.”  Notice the period follows the apostrophe that indicates there is a missing letter but is still placed within the end quotation mark.  Whether you agree with the theory or not, this is one rule that is easy to remember because there are no exceptions—other than geography and nationality.

Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.  She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well.  GrammarWorks@msn.com

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