Re: Punctuation in quotes -- American style

Subject: Re: Punctuation in quotes -- American style
From: Lauren <lauren -at- writeco -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2013 14:22:55 -0700

On 8/19/2013 10:51 AM, Richard Hamilton wrote:

American-style punctuation calls for periods and commas to appear inside quotation marks.

No question on the general rule.

The question is, are there circumstances where you would break that rule?

For example, consider the following sentences:

Set the value of the mode attribute to "titleBelow."

Do not use the mode attribute when type="note."

I learned these rules over 20 years ago and most style guides remain consistent to the original rules that I learned, yet variation occasionally arises and ego rules are often the reason for variation.

Generally, periods and commas go inside the quotes at all times, unless they will confuse the reader. Exclamation points and question marks go inside quotes when they are literally part of a quote and they go outside the quotes when they are part of the sentence that contains the quote. Colons and semi-colons always (should I quote that?) go outside of the quote.

I have read some style guides that recommend re-writing the sentence to avoid placing closing punctuation inside the quote. Commas are not likely to confuse a reader with appropriate intellect to read the document when the commas are inside quotes.

Unfortunately, the punctuation in your second case raises a problem.


The complete variable should be in quotes, not just its attribute that is quoted in the variable and "when" is misused. If you rewrite your sentence with its current structure and quote it correctly with the rules you accept, you will have an odd looking sentence.

* Do not use the mode attribute when [the variable is] "type="note"."

I would probably rewrite the sentence to separate the variable from its attribute or set the variable with its attribute apart from the sentence.

* Do not use the mode attribute when type is "note."

I do not know what the your style guide suggests, but I think "mode" and "type" should be highlighted in some way in the document. That sort of highlighting will not come through in text email, unless you use plain text formatting of underscores, asterisks, and slashes to indicate highlighting.

As a side note, it seems to me that punctuation rules for British English tend to be the same for quotes and parentheses and state that all punctuation goes on the outside, unless it is literally a part of the text within the encasing punctuation. I may not be completely accurate on that, since that is only my observation.

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