I am very much hoping that I have punctuated all of the following examples correctly per BrE punctuation. And I'm hoping that my bracketed explanations adequately and logically explain my reasoning to punctuate them as I have done. That being said, are all correct per BrE?

  1. The sign said 'Handle with care.' [The original sign had terminal punctuation – thus the full stop goes inside the quotes, correct?]

  2. The sign said 'Handle with care'. [The original sign did not have terminal punctuation – thus the full stop goes outside the quotes to end the sentence, correct?]

  3. Pete said, 'The sign said "Handle with care." ' [The sign contained terminal punctuation – hence the full stop goes inside as exampled here, correct?]

  4. Pete said, 'The sign said "Handle with care".' [The sign did not have terminal punctuation – hence the full stop goes outside the double ending quote marks as exampled here, correct?]

  5. "The sign said 'Handle with care'," Mike said. [The ending punctuation to this one is '," regardless of whether or not there was terminal punctuation on the sign.]

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    The first two are correct. But British publications are not consistent when you get down to the details of cases as complicated as the rest of these. There is no authority that decides how you should do these things, and even if there were, it probably wouldn't address cases like these. Only rabbinic scholars and lawyers worry about cases as convoluted as these.. So your question has no answer. – Peter Shor Feb 27 '14 at 13:22
  • Would anybody on this site accept the punctuation in 3, 4 and 5? – whippoorwill Feb 27 '14 at 13:39
  • 3
    If by accept you mean 'refrain from criticizing', then certainly; if you mean 'use ourselves' then it is more complicated, as Peter said. – Tim Lymington Feb 27 '14 at 13:49
  • No, please criticize. This is part of my osmotic process. – whippoorwill Feb 27 '14 at 13:51
  • 2
    I would punctuate no. 5 as “The sign said ‘Handle with care.’,” Mike said, though I admit part of the reason why I’d punctuate it like that is the sheer pleasure of getting to punctuate something so crazily. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 27 '14 at 17:01

Having in recent years taken an undergraduate degree in history, at a British university, I have had a level of instruction on punctuation, footnoting etc. Below is how I would punctuate your examples.

But let me say from the outset that I am assuming that whether the 'sign' contains a full stop is totally irrelevant to the reader. If it were a matter of great relevance, perhaps a forensic clue to a major crime, I would add footnotes to explain. I certainly wouldn't rely on the reader picking up the correct inference from the subtlety of the punctuation!

The sign said 'Handle with care'.

The sign said 'Handle with care'.

Pete said, 'The sign said "Handle with care" '.

Pete said, 'The sign said "Handle with care"'. [This most definitely has to have the full stop last. The only instance in which I would not put the stop last would be if the whole thing was in quotes.]

"The sign said 'Handle with care'", Mike said. [I would put the comma after the second close quote though I wouldn't be dogmatic about it.]

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  • Can you explain your choice for example 3 to me? Surely Pete is saying a complete sentence and the punctuation should go inside his quotes whether or not it also goes inside the sign's quotes? – starsplusplus Feb 27 '14 at 14:33
  • Based on your punctuation, I think (I'm not sure) that you might punctuate the following sentence thusly: Mike said, 'I am done with my job'. <—Full stop outside. – whippoorwill Feb 27 '14 at 14:42
  • @starsplusplus Because the full stop concludes the entire sentence. And as the entire sentence is not in quotation marks the stop has to go at the very end. Otherwise the stop would only be concluding the bit in quotes, and the sentence would not be ended with a full stop. That is my logic, which I try, rightly or wrongly to follow consistently. – WS2 Feb 27 '14 at 15:56
  • @whippoorwill Yes that is exactly how I would punctuate it. – WS2 Feb 27 '14 at 15:57
  • Ah, I understand your logic now, and I see why you've put the punctuation outside in all cases. So how would you punctuate it if Pete (or the sign) was asking a question? – starsplusplus Feb 27 '14 at 16:05

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