I'm a copywriter editing some text for a client who is a life coach. She has written this sentence which I'm stumped by having to punctuate in Australian English. It explains the excuses people often use to avoid self-care practices:

Self-care is about having enough energy to support others. This probably seems obvious. 'I know that!' I hear you say, and then I hear a 'but' - '…but I don't have the time', '…but the kids need me', '…but is so HARD'.


This is a matter of style, and you should thus be guided by your manual of style. I use The Chicago Manual of Style, which recognizes that you need to distinguish amongst words quoted in direct speech, words used to quote words, and words that need emphasis. You have considerable leeway in your choices, but here's one that helps your reader:

"I know that!" I hear you say, and then I hear a but — "but I don't have the time", "but the kids need me", "but it's so HARD".

The direct speech is placed in double quotes. Ellipsis points aren't required for obviously incomplete quoted sentences. The first but is in italics to indicate that you're talking about the word but, which is not being used as a conjunction. The other but's are also in italics to indicate that they're emphasized words (at least they jump out to the speaker), and that bit of typography connects the first with the other three. An em dash separates the explanation from it's examples. The word HARD is capitalized to indicate emphasis that rises to the level of a shout.

You may use single quotes in place of italics to talk about 'but' as a word, but that makes things a bit busy for my taste. You may also use a colon in place of the em dash.

  • Deadrat - you've helped me before and you've helped me again. I need you on speed dial! The sentence makes perfect sense the way you've punctuated it. Thank you so much.
    – Croppers
    Oct 12 '15 at 2:33

Can you share more context, please? As it is I can't tell what the sentence is talking about. Where did it come from?

Edit: Ah, I think I understand now. The sentence actually looks pretty good to me as is. I looked here and here, and it seems that in Australia single quotation marks are correct, if you were worried about that. I have a few other suggestions: With the last phrase '...but is so HARD'- you might want to use italics rather than capitalization (just a suggestion), and there appears to be a word missing. The hyphen after the first 'but' would be clearer if it was a colon.

  • I have revised the question and hopefully made the context clearer for you.
    – Croppers
    Oct 12 '15 at 2:14
  • Thanks so much RoseofWords. I think you're right about 'hard' being in italics rather than capitals. And yes, I missed out an 'it'. Really appreciate your time and advice:)
    – Croppers
    Oct 13 '15 at 2:32

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