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Usually, if I am writing that a person said something, I would precede the quoted text with a comma, like this:

Then he said, "I don't know why it happened."

However, in this sentence, an editor told me the comma after "he" wasn't necessary:

The author writes, and I'm quoting his words exactly, that he, “couldn't understand why it happened."

Which would make it read like so:

The author writes, and I'm quoting his words exactly, that he “couldn't understand why it happened."

I tried to look up the rules that cover this, but I'm still not clear if it's a matter of one version being more correct or not, or just a style preference. I fear it might be the kind of thing that pedants and would-be editors will complain about no matter which way I go.

Is either more definitively correct? If both are acceptable, is there a compelling reason I should choose one over the other?

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@EdwinAshworth Respectfully, sometimes I don't get the rules here. That question was closed as off topic and therefore I ignored it in my search for answers. Either that question does have a valid answer, in which case it shouldn't be closed, or it is off topic in which case my answer should stand on its own. And in any case, I can't see how either question about commas is off topic for the site. –  Questioner Jan 28 at 6:13
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Er...just a correction on my comment: I meant my "question" should stand on its own, not my "answer". –  Questioner Jan 28 at 6:26
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Perhaps superfluously, I think this question is perfectly fine, unless a duplicate already exists, which I am regrettably too lazy to search for. –  Cerberus Jan 28 at 6:37
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@EdwinAshworth, saying "anything is possible" might encompass the two examples I give, but it is not a suitable response to the clarification in my original question: "If both are acceptable, is there a compelling reason I should choose one over the other?" In other words, I had anticipated both "options were possible", and had hoped to pre-empt answers as wide open as the one you linked to by clarifying what I hoped to get as an answer. Sorry, but while the answers you are pointing to unquestionably related, they are nowhere near as final as you are proposing. –  Questioner Jan 28 at 7:08
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The rule is (and I quote exactly from the linked article): 'there's no hard and fast rule. It depends on what flow you wish to impart to the text.' I chose the colon here; I would choose the comma or zero punctuation before the opening inverted commas in other situations. This has all been covered before. –  Edwin Ashworth Jan 28 at 7:54

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The issue here is that the syntax of the core of the sentence he couldn't... transcends the quotation boundary. The subject, he, is not part of the quotation, but its verb, couldn't, is. In that case, you would not use a comma, unless you already needed a comma in regular syntax, i.e. if there were no quotation. But that is not the case here. So this is the correct version:

The author writes, and I'm quoting his words exactly, that he “couldn't understand why it happened."

In this case, a verb and its complements (the core of a sentence) are considered to be too intimately connected to be separated by a comma even if one is part of a quotation. The same applies to other intimate links between words, such as that between article and noun, between adjective and noun, etc.

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+1 However, I find that too complicated. You could quote practically any part of the author's sentence within your own sentence appropriately delimiting the quoted part. I see no other rules applicable here. –  Kris Jan 28 at 6:40
    
According to Cerberus, "you would not use a comma, unless you already needed a comma in regular syntax."; According to Cerberus, you "would not use a comma, ..."; According to Cerberus, you would "not use a comma, ..."; According to Cerberus, you would not use a "comma, ...", ... Why not? –  Kris Jan 28 at 6:45
    
@Kris: Okay, fair enough, you have a point. I have specified my explanation to "the core of the sentence", and I have added more of an explanation at the end. Better? –  Cerberus Jan 28 at 7:04

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