What would be the correct way to punctuate the following sentence?

Rather than thinking, "am I being a jerk?", Johann cut to the front of the line, as he did every Tuesday.

  • 2
    Would the "am" not be capitalised? Rather than thinking, "Am I being a jerk?"... Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 18:33

3 Answers 3


It's interesting that the OP and the two previous answerers retain the comma after the question mark/quotation mark combination in the example sentence. I assume that this reflects the British style preference for putting the comma outside a quotation unless it either appears in the original quoted language or is standing in for a period that was originally there.

In U.S. punctuation style, as you probably know, the comma normally would go inside the close quotation mark, whether it was originally there or not; but in this case, putting it there would give us jerk?," which most U.S. style guides do not like the look of. Instead, they gravitate toward the position that the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition (2003) espouses:

6.123 When to omit comma or period. Neither a period (aside from an abbreviating period) nor a comma ever accompanies a question mark or an exclamation point. The latter two marks, being stronger, take precedence over the first two.

[Relevant example:] "Have you read the platform?" asked Mark.

Also relevant is Chicago's recommendation for handling a question that appears in the midst of a sentence but isn't a quotation:

6.71. Within a sentence. A question mark is used within a sentence at the end of a direct question [citation omitted]. If the question does not begin the sentence, it need not start with a capital letter [citation omitted].

[Relevant example:] The question, how can the two be reconciled? was on everyone's mind.

So if you wanted to follow the Chicago approach to punctuating the OP's example sentence, you'd probably end up with this:

Rather than thinking, "am I being a jerk?" Johann cut to the front of the line, as he did every Tuesday.

For people who follow normal British punctuation style, these guidelines have little or no appeal. But in the alternative universe of U.S. punctuation styles, they enjoy wide support—and I don't think that they are at odds with AP (newspaper) style in any respect.


What you have works fine. Centaurus's answer also works fine. You could even remove the last comma and it would be fine.

There is no one "correct" way to punctuate this sentence (or most sentences). Write the sentence as you would like the reader to read it. Put commas where you want the reader to pause.


I would remove one comma.

Rather than thinking "am I being a jerk?", Johann cut to the front of the line, as he did every Tuesday.

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    In computer programming there are two ways to embed quotes within another quote. 1. Use double-quote for outer quote, use single-quote for inner quote. 2. Use double double-quotes for inner quotes. Commented Dec 5, 2014 at 21:43
  • @BlessedGeek You're right. As a matter of fact I added the outer quotes mechanically. The original sentence has no quotes so I better remove them.
    – Centaurus
    Commented Dec 5, 2014 at 22:16
  • It is conventional in English to separate a quoting verb from the quote it quotes; e.g., He said, “You’ll be late!”. As far as I am aware, this convention is used both in BrE and AmE. Is there any particular reason you would remove the comma here? Would you also remove it in He thought, “Am I being a jerk?”? Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 13:39

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