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I have three final questions regarding comma placements inside/outside the quote marks in BrE.

The following are sentences that were excerpted from the BBC News.

Separatism was a "serious threat", he said. [I understand that the comma is inserted outside the quote marks because it's not part of the actual quoted material here.]

"I want to make Ukraine a modern European country," he said. [But in this one, the comma is inside. It's not part of the quote in and of itself. Why? The example above has the comma outside.]

"Mr Obasanjo", he said, "why did you accuse Mr Jonathan of failing to deal with the many problems facing Nigeria?" [And with this sentence the comma is outside (after 'Mr Obasanjo'). Shouldn't it go inside because it's not part of the quote?]

"Mr Obasanjo," he said, "Why did you accuse Mr Jonathan of failing to deal with the many problems facing Nigeria?" [With the cap-W in the second quote, this would indicate that the original sentence had a full stop after 'Mr Obasanjo', ie Mr Obasanjo. Why did you accuse Mr Jonathan of failing to deal with the many problems facing Nigeria?" The comma after 'Mr Obasanjo', in this case, would substitute for the full stop.]

I'm trying to understand this whole concept. Would you have punctuated these three sentences à la the BBC?

closed as primarily opinion-based by tchrist, David M, RyeɃreḁd, anongoodnurse, MetaEd Mar 1 '14 at 14:58

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There is no single rule for commas and quotes in British publications. Different publications have different rules for exactly how to handle various situations. Here is what I think the BBC's rules are for the instances you gave:

In the first one, what is being quoted is

a serious threat

which has no punctuation. Thus, the comma goes outside. I believe this rule is fairly consistent in the U.K.

In the second one, what is being quoted is

I want to make Ukraine a modern European country.

which has a full stop. The full stop gets changed to a comma (because it doesn't actually end a sentence now), but gets left inside the quotes. I believe The Guardian also uses this rule, but not all British publishers do.

In the third one, what is being quoted is

Mr Obasanjo. Why did you accuse Mr Jonathan of failing to deal with the many problems facing Nigeria?

Again, the full stop gets turned into a comma but left inside the quotes.

  • Very good. I've never heard of the comma-turns-into-a-period rule. Interesting stuff. – whippoorwill Feb 28 '14 at 14:07
  • Here's where the confusion lies – at least with me, anyway: Mr Obasanjo. Why did you accuse Mr Jonathan of failing to deal with the many problems facing Nigeria? You could also place a comma after 'Mr Obasanjo', correct? Doing so could also spawn this version, no? "Mr Obasanjo", he said, "Why did you accuse Mr Jonathan [...] ?" Incidentally, on a different note, would I place the question mark - as shown - after the bracketed ellipses? – whippoorwill Feb 28 '14 at 14:14
  • Last but not least – I'm assuming that this is punctuated correctly in BrE (comma inside the introductory quote): 'The only thing we have to fear,' said Franklin Roosevelt, 'is fear itself.' – whippoorwill Feb 28 '14 at 14:55
  • Shouldn't that last one have the comma outside the introductory quote. The original sentence was "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." There wasn't a comma or full stop after "fear", so the punctuation goes outside. – Peter Shor Feb 28 '14 at 17:22
  • I don't think that's right about assuming a period after "Mr Obasanjo" in the third example, and then "turning it into a comma". A fairly high proportion of written instances of "darling why did you" occur at the start of a sentence (and grammatically it's irrelevant if those words happen to be preceding by others such as "Oh, my sweet..."). Eyeballing a couple of pages shows that the vast majority of writers place a comma next, not a full stop. – FumbleFingers Mar 1 '14 at 5:06
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The style manuals of Oxford and Cambridge University Presses require the comma to be outside the speech marks in your second and third examples.

  • The question was about the BBC style (which I believe is the same as the Guardian's style), not the Oxford and Cambridge University Presses' style. As I say in my answer, there is not a single British rule. – Peter Shor Feb 28 '14 at 19:11
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Yes, I would have.

In your first example, there is not a whole sentence that is quoted. The actual words of whoever is quoted are interpreted, but that person did use the specific words "serious threat".

Compare it to the situation where I say that according to me, blue apples a a ridiculous outcome of our drive to invent new gadgets.

A journalist could quote me as

oerkelens' opinion on blue apples was outspoken, they are a "ridiculous" invention, he said.

In the other two examples we have consistent pieces of reported speech, and it is customary to include trailing punctuation_inside_ the quotation marks.

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