Questions on Quotation Marks

Question: I know that when a quotation that is not set apart from the text runs for more than one paragraph, you leave out the quotation marks at the end of every paragraph until the last one. Does this apply when a quotation runs past the end of a paragraph but ends in the middle of the next one and is followed by an attribution (as opposed to occupying the whole paragraph)? For example:

[end of first paragraph]: " . . . after that, we just came back and went to bed.

[new paragraph] "That was the last day of our vacation, and we were really ready to come home," Jack said.

Is the omitted quotation mark after bed correct here?

Answer: If Jack said "after that, we just came back and went to bed," as well as "That was the last day of our vacation, and we were really ready to come home," the answer to both of your questions is yes.

The principle is to leave only one closing quotation mark. It doesn't really matter whether that closing mark falls before a hard return and new paragraph indention. It closes the quotation no matter where it falls.

If Jack only said "That was the last day of our vacation, and we were really ready to come home," and you are quoting him within a large quotation, Jack's remark would be in single quotes, and double quotes would close the overarching quotation.

Question (From an N.C. State staff member): Where in heaven's name did the habit of putting a punctuation mark within a quote become policy? When quoting something that does not especially end with a period it seems unnatural to put a period wit hin the quotation marks just because it ends a sentence. (". . . to take the food away from the cat is not always. . . ." To my way of thinking this is wrong and should be ". . . to take the food away from the cat is not always . . .". But, perhaps, I jus t don't see the logic.

Answer: You're right. American English is consistent in this punctuation policy. You can look for relief in British publications, which follow the rule you find more logical.

You are not alone in objecting to the American convention. A whole group of kindred spirits is lurking on one of the links from the N.C. State Online Writing Lab homepage. The "Frequently Asked Questions" link (on the bulleted list at the bottom of the page or directly at telp/styfaq1.htm#q1) puts this question to a vote of copyeditors. The American system wins out, but the British system has surprising support. The analysis covers the reasons for the opinions.

Question: Where does the period (.) or question mark (?) go in a sentence containing quotation marks, i.e.:

"What would you like to do?"


"What would you like to do"?

Answer: The American punctuation system is very straightforward for periods: They are always placed inside of quotation marks.

Question marks are a little more complicated. They are placed inside of quotation marks when they are part of the quoted matter. In the example you give, "What would you like to do?" is conventional punctuation.

Problems arise when the question mark attaches not to the material inside the quotation marks, but rather to the frame of the sentence. This rule generates the following punctuation:

Why would the Grammar Hotline advise its readers, "Ordering of multiple punctuation marks sometimes depends on the syntax of the overall sentence"?

In this example, the question mark belongs to the "why" clause, not to the quotation.

Question: If one is using a "nickname" in quotes, as "PaPa," (the way the person wrote it) do you continue to use the quotes after the first appearance or is once sufficient?

Answer: Once is more than sufficient. Twice is regarded as supercilious. This is why quotation marks used this way are sometimes called "smear quotes."

Question: Do you always put a period and comma inside quotation marks? Is it:

The floor was "like-new," and did not need repair. -or-

The floor was "like-new," and did not need repair.

The floor was not "like-new." -or-

The floor was not "like-new."

Answer: The direct answer to your question is yes. In American English, the convention is to put commas and periods inside quotation marks. The British follow a more complicated and time-consuming convention, which may be why there is no longer a British Empire.

The nit-picking answer to your question is yes, and furthermore, neither American nor English writers put a hyphen in a stock phrase like "like new" when that phrase is unambiguous, as it always is when it is a predicate adjective.

The working answer to your question is yes, and drop the hyphen, and while you're at it, drop the quotation marks. Like new is perfectly familiar diction, which means that it doesn't require typographical emphasis. Quotation marks are used to dr aw attention to a new coinage or an old word used in a new way. In this case, the quotation marks are likely to make your readers think that you are lying about the condition of the floors, and that they are not like new at all, but rather that the owner simply wishes them to be perceived as like new. The latter condition might fairly be characterized as a slopping mess, or, as we say in advertising, "loaded with potential."

Question: How do you punctuate a quote within a quote within a quote? For example:

Bob said, "Sue said, 'My favorite poem is "The Raven".'"

Is the above punctuation correct, or is there some other way?

Answer: The rules generate a mess even worse than the one you supply. All quotation marks fall outside terminal punctuation. Thus:

Bob said, "Sue said, 'My favorite poem is "The Raven."'"

Fortunately, this kind of construction is extremely unlikely to occur. It has the character of a grammarian's party joke. After all, the punctuation is the least of its problems. Even orally, you can barely follow the words.

If you like this kind of thing, you might muse over the possibilities of the following sentence:

Should a doctor doctor a doctor according to the doctoring doctor's doctrine of doctoring doctored doctors, or should a doctor doctor a doctor according to the doctored doctor's doctrine of doctoring doctored doctors?

Question: I have a general question about the use of quotation marks. Since an editor or proofreader does not actually collect the information, how can he be sure if what is written is actually a quote, or just the writer's paraphrasing?< /P>

For example, the last line of the computer hacker story we have to copyedit says: "Prosecutors called the sentence, the harshest ever given a computer hacker."

I understand that I would normally put quotation marks around the second part of the sentence (and take out the comma) because it's an incomplete sentence. But since I don't know if the prosecutors actually said those words, I'm not sure what to do.

Answer: Accurate attribution of quotations is the responsibility of the reporter, not the copyeditor. A good reporter is always eager to use direct, rather than indirect, quotations, and it would be unusual indeed if this quotation were direct a nd the reporter failed to point that out with quotation marks.

You can, of course, doublecheck with the reporter, but most copyeditors would accept the punctuation as a clear sign that this is an indirect quotation and would be very slow to insert quotation marks. Copyeditors know that there are libel issues invol ved in direct quotation that do not arise with indirect quotation. They also know that discretion is the better part of valor.

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