Thursday, December 9, 2010

More Than You Asked About Grammar,

or, Why I should have paid closer attention in English class.

Since I have been called on my usage of punctuation where quotation marks are involved, I plead guilty to the charge of inconsistency. I do not cop to stupidity, but perhaps, on occasion, to ignorance.

I have consulted, via the interwebby thing, of course, with grammar maven Tina Blue. She says that where an interrogative condition exists, use logic, i.e., if the question mark ending the sentence is part of the quotation, place the closing quotation marks after the interrogation point. For example,

Rose asked, "Where is the notebook I left last week?"

Otherwise, place the question mark after the closing quotation mark, as in

Didn't you hear Marian say, "I gave it to Mark"?

Beyond this logical approach, Ms. Blue says, "...the point is that if you are an American, you need to keep your commas and periods inside your closing quotation marks, where they belong.

"And just why, you may ask, do they belong there? Well, it seems to be the result of historical accident. When type was handset, a period or comma outside of quotation marks at the end of a sentence tended to get knocked out of position, so the printers tucked the little devils inside the quotation marks to keep them safe and out of trouble. But apparently only American printers were more attached to convenience than logic, since British printers continued to risk the misalignment of their periods and commas."

8 comments:

Lin said...

Thank you for this lesson, Mr. Vanilla. When is lunch?

Rebecca said...

After homeschooling four kids for 15 years, I'm quite the grammar nazi. But I much prefer history class. :D

Grace said...

If it's not part of the quote then is shouldn't be inside the quotation marks, that's what I was taught.

I use quotation marks a lot to indicate emphasis of some kind or another - the kind of emphasis that tone of voice would indicate in speech. I use them waaaay too much!

vanilla said...

Patience, Lin. The bell will ring in a couple minutes. And don't let me see you running in the hall again!

Yes, Grace, I learned that simple and logical rule, too; which leads to my confusion and the necessity to relearn, per twenty-first century protocols. I also use them for stuff other than direct quotes.

With you, Rebecca, I found history (and most other classes) more interesting than grammar. And yet grammar seems to be so useful. Dang it. Miss Long told me that would happen!

Sharkbytes said...

Interesting. My education was all thoroughly American. Inside the quotes they go... printing accident or not!

vanilla said...

Shark, I am accepting the standard and making an effort to conform.

Vee said...

Interesting considering the fact that I apparently was not taught the American way and, therefore, got into a discussion with my husband and my brother during my writing of a novel. Brother (a person you know well) and husband won.

vanilla said...

Vee, I seem to recall the incident to which you refer. The overarching problem is that the "American way" is also the least logical way. You have to quit over-thinking it.