Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

How would I punctuate the bold portion?

"Who are you?" she asked.

"Wait," I replied, "did you just ask me Who are you?"

I would use the following:

"Wait," I replied, "did you just ask me, 'Who are you'?"

  • Comma before the quote

  • Quoted with single quotation marks (instead of italics, which I'd consider another option)

  • Closing quotation mark before the question mark

  • Only one question mark (for my question, not the quoted one)

Is this correct?

share|improve this question
1  
1  
Single quotes inside of double quotes seems obvious to me, but then I'm a programmer. –  Ben Brocka Nov 4 '11 at 0:12
    
@FumbleFingers: Slightly different. My question deals with a quote within another quote. –  The English Chicken Nov 4 '11 at 0:30
1  
I don't see any difference. We can go on nesting quote within quote within quote until the cows come home. You still put the question mark after the innermost question, as I think all highly-rated answers will show both here and on the original duplicate. –  FumbleFingers Nov 4 '11 at 2:33
    
Can we link the two? I think the answers here are clearer. –  The English Chicken Nov 4 '11 at 13:13
add comment

5 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Here's the correct version:

"Wait," I replied, "did you just ask me, 'Who are you?' "

Some things to notice:
1. The statement being quoted is a question, so you need the question mark in the embedded quotation marks. You don't need a second question mark. A sentence can have only one end punctuation mark.
2. The comma before the embedded quotation, which follows standard format for introducing a quotation.
3. The space between the single and double quotation marks at the end.

If I were to revise this, I would write this: "Wait," I said. "Did you just ask me who I am?"

share|improve this answer
add comment

I'd punctuate it like this:

"Wait," I replied, "did you just ask me: 'Who are you?'"

Or I'd simply use Reported Speech to avoid this mess with punctuation:

"Wait," I replied, "did you just ask me who I am?"

share|improve this answer
    
What's the difference between what you proposed and "Did you just ask me who I was?" –  RiMMER Nov 3 '11 at 15:01
1  
We are taught to replace the present tenses with past tenses when the introductory verb is in a past tense. However, since the question is reported only seconds later (at least that's what I understand from the example given), it sounds unnatural to me to use the form "was". I thought about it, but the present tense sounded more vivid. –  Irene Nov 3 '11 at 15:10
    
A comma is more common (in AmE) than a colon to introduce a quoted statement. Also, this needs a space between the single and double quotation mark at the end. See my correction below. –  David Bowman Nov 3 '11 at 18:17
add comment

According to this site, you're mostly correct. The one change would be to put the question mark inside the single quotation mark.

"Wait," I replied, "did you just ask me, 'Who are you?'"

share|improve this answer
add comment

Regarding quotation marks, the standard rule in English is to alternate single and double quotes, beginning with double quotes.

For example:

"He said, 'I have arrived.'"

"Al said, 'Bob told me, "Charlie is here."'"

If a question mark is part of the quote, it goes inside the quotation marks. If it is not part of the quote, it goes outside. If there is a question mark inside the quote and nothing follows it except punctuation, we don't put a period after the quote.

Did Bob really say, "I am here"?

But:

Did Bob ask, "Are you here?"

The only time you'd put punctuation after the quote is if it is not a period, like:

I can't believe that Bob asked, "Are you here?"!

A quote that asks a question that is part of a sentence that asks a question is awkward, but technically should be written:

I asked, "Did Bob really ask, 'Are you here?'?"

share|improve this answer
add comment

There’s no way round it. If you want to stick to those words it has to be:

"Wait," I replied, "did you just ask me, 'Who are you?'?"

So best not to stick to those words.

I've since found the passage I was looking for in Trask's 'Penguin Guide to Punctuation'. He writes, 'if a sentence would logically end in two question marks, only the first is written.' I can see that doing so makes for less confusion.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.