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Do you agree with my rationale below? This is with regard to British punctuation. The specificity of this particular question has not previously been posted.

'I need to visit the mall', said Aunt Emma, 'to pick up some party supplies.' (The comma goes outside the introductory quote {'I need to visit the mall',} because it is not part of the original sentence. The original sentence isn't 'I need to visit the mall, to pick up some party supplies.' Logically, a comma would not follow the word 'mall' in that sentence; hence the comma goes outside the quote mark in the introductory quote. Make sense?)

But if the sentence were 'I need to visit the mall,' said Emma, 'but I need to stop by the bank first', the comma would go inside the quote mark (in the introductory quote). This is because the comma is an inherent part of the original sentence ('I need to visit the mall, but I need to stop by the bank first.'). The comma separates two independent clauses connected by the coordinating conjunction 'but'. By the same respect, 'Well,' said I, 'I'm sorry, but I can't do anything there' is correctly punctuated with the comma inside the quote mark in the introductory quote. The reason is that a comma naturally follows an introductory expression like 'well'.

And, finally, the comma would go outside the ending quote mark in the following example: 'Good-day, sir', said I. The reason is that the comma is not part of the initial quote.

Based on this infrastructure, I'd also propose that the following are punctuated correctly per British criteria:

•When Mike said 'Be careful what you wish for', Janet listened. (Not sure whether a comma follows 'said' here.)

•I won't accept your proposal', Dave said. (The comma goes outside the ending quote mark here because it technically is not part of the original sentence. The original sentence would require the full stop (i.e. 'I won't accept your proposal.').

Is my explanation valid, and are all my examples punctuated correctly?

  • I'm just going to raise the standard American argument that these are periods and not full stops. But, that is merely my attention seeking behavior. ;-) – David M Feb 21 '14 at 19:37
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After looking on the web, it appears that there is no single British rule that all British publications follow. If you look at what The Guardian (certainly British) actually does, it seems to change full stops into commas and leave them inside the quotation marks:

When Mike said 'Be careful what you wish for,' Janet listened.

The full stop turns into a comma (because it no longer ends a sentence), but it remains inside the quotation marks, indicating that this corresponds to a pause in the original quotation. This is what I would do, but I am American, and thus shouldn't be trusted on this.

However, some sites advocate that you use:

When Mike said 'Be careful what you wish for', Janet listened.

since there wasn't a comma in the original quotation.

The other answer links to the Oxford University Style Guide. This says

include punctuation which belongs to the quote inside the quotation marks, and a closing full stop/question mark/exclamation mark if the quote is a complete sentence.

If you take this literally as written, you would have to say:

When Mike said 'Be careful what you wish for.' Janet listened.

since 'Be careful what you wish for.' is a complete sentence. This looks wrong to me, but certainly much less wrong than:

*When Mike said 'Be careful what you wish for.', Janet listened.

I would hope nobody uses this last style.

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While your post uses tick marks instead of quotation marks, and omits commas, in places, before reported speech, the argument is in line with the Oxford University Style Guide's recommendations, which would cover the British English angle you mention.

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  • My continued quest for increased knowledge is an evolutionary process. What is a 'tick mark'? So I'm assuming that I'm correct with all examples, then? – whippoorwill Feb 14 '14 at 18:44
  • Hmm. I've never heard of tick marks—ever. – whippoorwill Feb 14 '14 at 18:46
  • I think he's referring to the single, symmetrical symbols that you've used instead of proper quotation marks. The preferred usage that I was taught is double marks for normal quotes, single ones for quotes within a quote. Then (with a little more work on a normal computer keyboard) you should really use the distinct open and close quotation marks e.g. “I thought Dave would say ‘Yes’ to my proposal” said Will. – DavidR Feb 14 '14 at 22:42
  • Does any British expert agree with the way I punctuated all aforementioned examples? Thank you. – whippoorwill Feb 15 '14 at 0:08
  • @whippoorwill - I am British. You can't get more British than Oxford University, who publish the Oxford English Dictionary. Re tick marks and quotation marks, compare the vertical marks in your original with the curved marks in DavidR's comment. Tick marks are used to show divisions and subdivisions of quantity, eg in minutes, 3'30". It's just something to be aware of, – Leon Conrad Feb 15 '14 at 4:16

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