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Old 12-28-2003, 02:25 PM
writ writ is offline
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origin of placing "outside" punctuation within quotes

I've repeatedly gotten marked down on English papers for putting boundary punctuation outside of quotes "like this", instead of "like this," which is supposedly the proper way. What's the origin of this practice? For some reason, it seems more logical to do it the other way -- so I imagine there is a lengthy history that explains why we do it this way.

Also, is there a governing body that determines any standard of correctness regarding these things? Or is it by consensus of AP, MLA, Chicago?

Thanks!
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Old 12-28-2003, 02:44 PM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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There are a lot of stylistic guides, but the general consensus is that a mark ending a quoted phrase, clause, or sentence should go within the quotation marks. This means that a comma or period will ordinarily go within them, as the closure on the phrase, clause or sentence.

Quotation and exclamation points are a different story. The following two examples will make clear the usage:

He asked, "Are aardvarks mammals?"

Did he say, "Aardvarks are mammals"?

Note that a closing period is not needed in either example, because the question mark serves the duty of closing both sentence and quoted remark.
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Old 12-28-2003, 04:50 PM
BobT BobT is offline
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You should put the punctuation in the place where it indicates what the quoted person was speaking. So you put the comma inside the quotes if the speaker was taking a pause there or saying something that required a comma.

I don't think the other way is any more or less logical however. It's just what everyone is used to.
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Old 12-28-2003, 05:27 PM
rkts rkts is offline
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There was another thread about this recently. As I said in that thread, if there is punctuation to be added after a quote, the British traditionally put it outside the quotes, whereas Americans traditionally put it inside.

But it's mostly a matter of preference. My personal rule is that, if what is enclosed in quotes can be a complete sentence, then the punctuation goes outside; if it is just a single word or phrase, then the punctuation goes inside.

Granted, there isn't much reason behind ever putting the punctuation outside, since it is extremely unlikely to cause any confusion. It just bothers some people, myself included, to modify in any way what they quote. Hence the rule above: if it is just a single word or phrase, it will definitely be interpreted as an addition, since one would never quote the punctuation along with a single word or phrase; but if it is a full sentence, the reader can't be sure, since one might want to quote the punctuation along with it.

Of course, if you're writing an English paper, you should use the American system of always putting the punctuation inside, unless your teacher tells you otherwise, since that is what most people do.
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Old 12-28-2003, 05:31 PM
ratatoskK ratatoskK is offline
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I think the question was how did the practice originate, since in the U.S. it's generally inside the quotes, and in the U.K. it's often outside. Assuming the U.K. practice came first, what happened to change it in the U.S.?
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Old 12-28-2003, 06:26 PM
Zoe Zoe is offline
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I have been told for many years that in America the period and the comma came to be put inside the quotation marks by people in the printing profession. Others adopted the convention.

Quote:
But it's mostly a matter of preference. My personal rule is that, if what is enclosed in quotes can be a complete sentence, then the punctuation goes outside; if it is just a single word or phrase, then the punctuation goes inside.
No, it is not a matter of preference if you wish to pass your college English classes.

In America, periods and commas always go inside the quotation marks. There is one teeny-tiny exception, but it just never comes up:

When a reference or page number is given after a quotation, the period goes after the reference or page number. For example:

"He loves to go swimmin' with bowlegged women" (p.4).

Question marks and exclamation points, as pointed out earlier, depend on the sentence. All of these are correct usages:

1. Why would you call him "handsome"?
2. I think I heard him ask, "Why?"
3. Stop playing "Stairway to Heaven"!
4. I think I heard him yell, "Fire!"

Semi-colons and colons always go outside the quotation marks.

This English teacher now returns to retirement and her "All Kids Left Behind Program."
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Old 12-28-2003, 07:53 PM
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RealityChuck RealityChuck is online now
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Re: origin of placing "outside" punctuation within quotes

The general explanation for the reason US punctuation goes within the quote marks is that the period after the quote tended to break too easily when set in cold type. The quote helped protect the period or comma, since it wasn't standing out alone.

As to any governing body, of course not. Language is fully democratic and usage is determined by consensus.
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Old 12-28-2003, 08:17 PM
rkts rkts is offline
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Quote:
No, it is not a matter of preference if you wish to pass your college English classes.
Which is exactly what I said at the bottom of my post.
Quote:
There is one teeny-tiny exception, but it just never comes up:

When a reference or page number is given after a quotation, the period goes after the reference or page number.
This exception just never comes up because it is not a rule of punctuation, but a rule of citation: that the reference goes before the end of the sentence.
Quote:
1. Why would you call him "handsome"?
2. I think I heard him ask, "Why?"
3. Stop playing "Stairway to Heaven"!
4. I think I heard him yell, "Fire!"
There is no need to point out that, when punctuation is already part of the quote -- which is often the case when the quoted material is a complete sentence, as in both #2 and #4 -- the punctuation goes inside the quotes. Your only point, therefore, is that added question marks and exclamation points (and semicolons and colons) always go outside the quotes -- which is a valid point; they do seem to look better that way. I was thinking only of commas and periods when I said that I would put them inside the quotes if the enclosed word or phrase does not form a complete sentence.

Just trying to make things clear.
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Old 12-28-2003, 08:46 PM
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Re: Re: origin of placing "outside" punctuation within quotes

Quote:
Originally posted by RealityChuck
The general explanation for the reason US punctuation goes within the quote marks is that the period after the quote tended to break too easily when set in cold type. The quote helped protect the period or comma, since it wasn't standing out alone.

As to any governing body, of course not. Language is fully democratic and usage is determined by consensus.
Something relatively similar happened in Spanish with the diacritical marks over the vowels: in print they were difficult or impossible to put over capital vowels so the Academy relaxed the rule. In other words, they would not send the Inquisition after you if you did not put the marks because it was impossible to do so but most people got the idea now that capital vowels should *not* have diacritical marks which is just not so. Now that computers allow them they should be used.
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Old 12-30-2003, 03:21 PM
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I have read that this American practice (which I've always disliked) is on the wane anyway (the author blamed computer savvy people who insisted on "overly rational" usage akin to computer languages and set a bad example via the web, but I doubt we've had such a great effect)

This inspired: My personal rant on quotes and apostrophes, Vol. 1

Engineers and programmers [I've worked as both. in fact, my original major, never completed, was biomedical engineering. Of course, back then, we didn't have all this new-fangled science, and the chieftain was happy if we just made sure the cows had a leg at each corner... which wasn't easy, since we didn't have screws yet, and dovetailing the legs on -a process known as "cow-orking"- was just plain messy. Well, actually, that was before doves, so it was more like pterodactyl-tailing, and most of the blood was our own. Those cow may not have been getting screwed, but we sure were. What we lacked in ejumacation, we made up in toughness!]

Ahem... as I was saying, we engineers and programmers tend to prefer "logical" constructions over traditional ones. Textbook rules, like moving an external comma or period inside the quotes just because some post-medieval typographer thought it was prettier, really drove me nuts. IMHO, not only is it illogical, but it often gets in the way of the expression of your intended meaning. Quotes are often used for, well, quoting. If there's a full sentence inside the quotes, it should by rights contain its own terminating mark.

In the sentence, "Son, it can be really hard to cut a neat dovetail notch when the biomed next to you is screaming 'Hurry up with that notch, dammit! This pterodactyl is chewing my verschugginer arm off,' but with practice, you'll learn to maintain a proper bevel, even though you know that on the next cow you'll be holding the pterodactyl while he takes his own sweet time doing the cut," this stupid rule keeps me from giving the cow-orkers exclamation -and trust me, it was usually the dangedest exclamation you ever heard- the mark it deserves. Even in the preceding sentence, I was forced to use a comma after "cut," eliminating the ordinarily higher priority internal period, and obscuring the continuation after the subordinate clause.

In fact, that rule almost never makes sense. I'm not even convinced that it still looks prettier in modern typography, and if you think my cow-orking fingers are going to go back to hand-carving Gutenberg typeblocks, you're gonna learn the real meaning of 'verschugginer' real fast! If necessary, I'll reinvent the computer first. [I can do it, too! A computer's just doped silicon and wires - basically purified rock. I had management training back in the day, and managers do all their thinking with a rock. And doped engineering? Is there any other kind?)

I refused to move external punctuation inside quotes for decades, fully expecting that, in the age of word processing, people would come to their senses. Alas, while there has been an increasing acceptance of the practice (and the convention differs in other English-speaking nations), the change has not yet been made. Besides, my editor suffers enough, as you may imagine, so I figure the least I can do is give her a bone [Sheesh! You know darn well what I mean!] and move the damn external punctuation inside.
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