I wrote the following sentence and was criticized for using a comma before the quotation marks.

Steve states: The topic for discussion will be Friedrich Nietzsche's controversial philosophical concept of the, "Superman or Overman."

The "Ubermensch" was Nietzsche's concept but the English translations of it, that Steve insisted I use because other people use them, were not his and more importantly they are both incorrect. The correct translation would be, "Superhuman," as the concept was not meant to be gender specific.

Is using a comma before quotation marks in the above sentence, for the reasons that I have stated, acceptable or not?

  • 2
    Why 'the, "Superman or Overman"' but not 'The, "Ubermensch"'? Dec 12, 2015 at 2:56
  • Steve was going to be the moderator of our discussion group and he insisted on using the incorrect terms, "Superman or Overman," rather than either of the correct ones, "Ubermensch" or "Superhuman," and that is why I used the comma and quotation marks. They were not necessary but I think they were acceptable given their context. Dec 12, 2015 at 9:28

2 Answers 2


Punctuation is a matter of style, so you should be guided by your manual of style. Most style manuals recommend that a comma separate an introduction to a direct quote (i.e., somebody's words) from the quoted words:

"What concept did you say?"
I said, "The concept of Superman or Overman."

But you're not quoting anyone; you're just using quotation marks to emphasize special terms. (I used italics above.) That emphasis doesn't change the terms' use in the sentence as the object of a preposition or nominative complement, cases that don't take a separating comma. If you wouldn't use a comma for words that aren't terms, don't use one for terms.

  • Nowadays, I'd say that even for direct quotes, the choice of comma / colon / zero punctuation is considered to be available (and useful) by many writers. This has been addressed here before. Dec 12, 2015 at 6:56
  • @EdwinAshworth Thanks for sharing. Whatever your style guide suggests for direct quotes is the standard to follow. Nowadays, I'd say that for quoted words used to emphasize terms, the choice of comma or any other separator is considered not to be available unless an unquoted word would also take a comma.
    – deadrat
    Dec 12, 2015 at 7:20
  • (2) Agreed (1) What percentage of writers (a) use a S-G at all (b) are constrained to use a certain one (c) are aware that style recommendations in say String & Gray are not gospel and may even be archaic or otherwise inadvisable (d) realise that the next writer may be using a different but equally valid S-G (e) look around to find one they prefer (or perhaps even mix-and-match where not ludicrous to do so)? Dec 12, 2015 at 7:30
  • @EdwinAshworth (a) Just about anyone who writes for someone else (b) See a. (c) a dishearteningly large percentage (d) anyone who writes for more than one other person or organization (e) That's where ELU comes in.
    – deadrat
    Dec 12, 2015 at 8:01
  • I was quoting the three words Steve insisted I use so they were a direct quote from him. The words from the colon to the comma were my words, not his, so I was trying to link the quote to Steve in a sentence he did not write. He liked everything else I had written for the Facebook post except that I had used, "Ubermensch or Superhuman," so I changed them and published the post. I explained to the discussion group that "Superman and Overman" were not accurate translations of what "Ubermensch" actually meant and that I was only quoting the exact words Steve insisted I use. Dec 13, 2015 at 7:14

@haha 's link leads to a different topic, and therefore a different answer:
viz. Where a verb of saying, declaring, or thinking introduces a direct quotation, it is normal to place a comma before the quotation marks.

Sussex University gives the answer to the current question under the heading Inverted commas; about words.

Even there the answer is not explicit; but in this example the absence of commas makes the practice clear:

The words stationary 'not moving' and stationery 'writing materials' should be carefully distinguished.

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