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First off, I do not believe this question is a duplicate of this one:

What is the correct punctuation when quoting a question in the middle of a larger sentence?

I want to know how to insert a complete quote in the middle of a sentence where the quote must be immediately followed by a comma while also preserving the punctual tone (ie, whether or not it's imperitive, declarative, interrogatory, or exclamatory). Here's an example:

Before you walk into a room full of glum-looking people and ask, "Who died?", you should make sure there's not a casket present.

I think there are some who will argue that there is too much punctuation in my example. I disagree, however. There should always be consistency in any linguistic construct. Arbitrarily eliminating crucial punctuation on the grounds that there's simply too much of it is a bad call.

That said, I chose to keep the question mark and add a comman after "Who died?". If I say "Who died,", the interrogatory tone has to be assumed by the reader which is not guaranteed. Preserving the question mark forces the tone of the sentence which gives the writer more control over how it is received by the reader.

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There are several alternatives if you want to retain the quotation marks and question mark, which I list here in shortened form:

  1. Before you walk into a room and ask, "Who died?", you should ...
  2. Before you walk into a room and ask "Who died?", you should ...
  3. Before you walk into a room and ask, "Who died?" you should ...
  4. Before you walk into a room and ask "Who died?" you should ...

The basic form is "Before you do X, you should do Y," which means that the comma before you is necessary to separate the clauses and (3) and (4) can be rejected.

Version 1 has a comma before the reported speech; that's standard form. Here, though, it is probably not necessary because the "Who died?" is so closely tied to the first half of the sentence that it doesn't need to be set off from it. There is also the possibility that the first comma could be interpreted as the end of the first clause [whereas it is in fact the second comma], or that the quotation between the two commas is a parenthetical insertion.

I prefer version 2.

If the quotation ended in a full stop and not a different mark, then it would suffice to omit it altogether and simply use the clause-separator:

Before you walk into a room and say "You look sad", you should ...


It is worth considering a further alternative:

Before you walk into a room and ask who died, you should ...

This doesn't use reported direct speech, it reports the activity and describes the situation. It's left to the reader to imagine the scene and the intonation. Do you really need to put that in the writing? Perhaps this is straying into the territory of writing advice.

  • Regarding your alternative, this depends on whether or not the writer finds it necessary to convey the quote verbatim. There are many instances where the reader should be aware of the exact words spoken by someone rather than be forced to receive the writer's summarized version, especially when it comes to quotes of a political or ideological nature. – oscilatingcretin Sep 19 '13 at 12:19
  • True. But in this instance it's hypothetical: you are advising against asking the question, not reporting exact words spoken by someone. – Andrew Leach Sep 19 '13 at 12:38
  • Right, but it's simply generic example regarding how to treat an exact quote. This assumes that the reader of this question knows whether or not they should use a verbatim quote or to simply report activity. – oscilatingcretin Sep 19 '13 at 12:44
  • There is no punctuation in the actual quote (it could have been dictated, but then ';' say should appear as 'semicolon') - the outer punctuation is not totally dictated by the original speaker. If you aim for clarity, you are almost bound to upset some people who consider archaic (pseudo-)rules sacrosanct: tough. Choosing one of Andrew's 4 original alternatives seems style-based rather than logic/clarity-based. I'm hard pressed to select between 2 and 4 (the introductory comma, once considered compulsory, feels wrong to me) - the '?' probably marks the clause separation sufficiently. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 19 '13 at 13:09
  • I agree that it can be awkward choosing end punctuation logically if one also feels bound by conventions. Logically, we should put, say, Bob looked at his watch and said 'She's late.' to Bill. Bob had finished his sentence. If a notice proclaimed 'Eat fish' rather than 'Eat fish.', we could show this. But traditionally, a comma was substituted. At grammar-monster.com/lessons/… are different conventions, the main divisions of which the authors refer to as 'UK convention' and 'US convention', but they do admit there are sub-variants. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 19 '13 at 13:33
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I would say version 1, but it looks funny to see the coma after the question mark and quotation mark. But I guess it's OK.

  • 2
    In a proper answer, any information should be validated by a reputable source; otherwise the answer will be nothing but opinion. – J. Taylor Jan 22 '18 at 18:50

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