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This is something I've gone back and forth on with a couple of writer friends and nobody is ever really sure what the correct punctuation format is, or whether there really is a format that's technically correct. Hopefully someone can shed some light on this.

If I have a sentence of dialogue with nested quotes, but the nested quote is at the very end, what's the correct way to use the closing punctuation?

"He told me to tell you he would 'deal with it.'"

"He told me to tell you he would 'deal with it'."

I tend to use the second option just because following a single quote > punctuation > double quote structure seems to be a little easier on the eyes, and I've read work by other writers who follow that structure as well. Another writer friend uses the first option but puts a short space (can't remember the term she used) between the single and double quote so it was similarly easy on the eyes.

Is one method more correct than the other, or are they both correct? I think I remember reading somewhere that the format differs between US and UK English, but I've seen both formats used by both US and UK writers, so I have no idea if that's accurate.

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    Your friend probably uses a hair space or thin space. – Yay Apr 29 '16 at 18:07
  • Ah, yes, THAT'S what it was! – EJF Apr 29 '16 at 18:22
  • Sometimes if I want to get a little freaky I use French guillemets instead of single quotes. – jlovegren Apr 30 '16 at 0:41
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I would argue that your second format is the more logical format (and I think it is probably the more comment format in more modern British English).

The outer (double) quote marks (or 'inverted commas' as we often refer to them in British English) encompass the entire sentence, and therefore include the capital letter at the beginning and the full stop at the end.

The words 'deal with it' are merely a quotation of three words said by 'He'; they are not a full sentence in themselves and the full stop does not 'belong' to those words - it belongs only at the very end of the sentence. Therefore the full stop should not appear within the inner quote marks.

If, for example, the whole sentence were:
"He told me to tell you he would 'deal with it' and that he would let you know when he had done so."
there would be no thought of including the full stop inside the inner quote marks - but only at the end of the sentence.

Why should the fact that the inner quotation happens to fall at the end of the sentence affect the positioning of the full stop? If you look at the first sentence of my answer, the clause in brackets happens to fall at the end of that sentence, but that doesn't mean that the full stop should be inside the brackets: why should it be different with quote marks?

  • Ooh, good comparison with the brackets/parentheses, and good point! – EJF Apr 30 '16 at 2:43

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