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In British English, is the following quotation punctuated correctly, specifically the comma outside of the quotation marks after 'I'?

'I', she said, 'am deathly afraid of snakes.'

To me, the sentence is:

I am deathly afraid of snakes.

Not:

I [comma] am afraid of snakes

So the comma logically goes outside of the ending quote mark (after 'I'), correct?

  • The comma is used as a device to separate different parts of the sentence with clarity in cases like this, I'd use << She said 'I am deathly afraid of snakes.' >> for the quotative-fronted variant, as I believe the inverted commas set off the quote perfectly adequately and don't read this with a pause (and can find a style-guide allowing it). The use of the comma can't be claimed to be totally logical wherever one likes to put it. There is a degree of arbitrariness. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 8 '16 at 21:04
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    Edwin, why is there no comma to introduce the quote after 'said' in your sentence? Isn't it a standard rule and universal practice to include it? All style guides that I've seen say to use one after such words that introduce a quote. – FuzzyNavel Oct 8 '16 at 22:01
  • See the answer here and the statements covering this at Grammar-monster.com (under 'hot tip') and Sesquiotica. The Sesquiotica article goes into such fine detail that it is no wonder some prefer a one-size-fits-all approach. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 9 '16 at 14:24
  • Thanks for that, Edwin. I'm perfectly fine with punctuating like this - minus the commas:**'That' he said 'is an abomination.' 'That is an abomination' he said. He said 'That is an abomination.'**These are certainly clear without the commas. I am not bound and gagged by a particular style guide, so these will work. Agreed? – FuzzyNavel Oct 9 '16 at 16:17
  • 'Work', like 'acceptable', is a loaded term. Obviously, they'd work if I were your editor / tutor. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 9 '16 at 20:08
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There is no hard and fast "rule". I was taught that punctuation always comes inside the quotation marks, and never occurs outside it (rather like your full-stop). It's a nice easy rule which provides absolute consistency.

'I,' she said, 'am deathly afraid of snakes.'

Burchfield in New Fowler's Modern English Usage takes the modernist line beloved of people like Geoffey Pullum, who have their own agenda to push.

If the quotation is continuous, without punctuation at the point where it is broken, the comma should be placed outside the quotation marks.

He uses an example similar to your sentence.

Conclusion: do what you think best. There are positions which support both practices.

  • Thanks, Andrew. I'd love it if you have that example, which is similar to mine, and posted it here. – FuzzyNavel Oct 8 '16 at 20:37
  • I'm in a cleft stick here. Obviously, one (and I'm one) promotes their own favoured practice. But I also feel that some people abuse the high platform they're on to arrogate a practice that there are arguments against. The best thing to do is surely to state all reasonable arguments with pros and cons, making sure that people know that they are arguments rather than fiats. This answer seems to try to do both (or neither). / The trouble with 'punctuation always inside quotation marks' is that it does not distinguish between: John protested 'Sam is a liar!' and John protested 'Sam is a liar'! – Edwin Ashworth Oct 9 '16 at 20:21
  • @EdwinAshworth I think your example is very much an edge case, probably the exception which proves the rule. – Andrew Leach Oct 9 '16 at 20:42
  • If one broadens the analysis to quotations other than direct speech, one certainly needs the freedom to include pre-existing punctuation within the quotation marks. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 9 '16 at 20:53
  • Well, of course. I think that searching on punctuation edge cases will find an answer of mine which concurs. – Andrew Leach Oct 9 '16 at 21:30

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