Gee whiz! Just when I thought I had the "period within quotation marks" rules set firmly in my personal punctuational code, I hit upon this sentence:

All message IDs are pre-pended with the value “ID:”.

As a reviewer, should I advise my author to stuff that very American period inside the quotation mark? Wouldn't that not only look rather ugly but also somewhat confuse the fact that the item within the quotation marks is to be typed verbatim by the reader? What would be community-advised in this case?

  • 2
    As you have it written looks more right to me. Putting the period into the quotes here would lead me to think that the period may belong to the characters prepended to message id's. – Chad Jul 27 '11 at 16:18
  • In the American style, I believe you should not move a period inside the quotation mark if there's a piece of punctuation already there. You should delete the period if the punctuation is sentence-ending (i.e., a period, question mark, or exclamation mark) and leave the period outside for other punctuation marks. I'm not sure about ellipses. – Peter Shor Apr 26 '12 at 12:02

It's certainly a tricky question—the Chicago Manual of Style, for example, has no general guidance that I could find as to the appropriate format when following the American convention. It does offer an exception in section 7.75, which according to the section title, applies only to things that are to be literally typed, but I believe your example is close enough to apply the same rule.

If quotation marks must be used, any punctuation that is not part of the quoted expression should appear outside the quotation marks (as in the second example; see also 6.9)

Furthermore, Wikipedia does have this to offer:

Many American style guides explicitly permit periods and commas outside the quotation marks when the presence of the punctuation mark inside the quotation marks will lead to ambiguity, such as when describing keyboard input:

To use a long dash on Wikipedia, type in “—”.

Since, as you say, including the period inside the comma would be confusing, you should probably place the period outside the quotation marks.

Personally, I'd recommend using British style (aka logical punctuation), since by virtue of attempting to be logical, it ends up much easier than American style.

  • Oh! So close to giving this answer a +1 but the needless jibe at the end about so-called "logical punctuation" leads to a poor outcome. As was amply demonstrated during the brouhaha over Ben Yagoda's call for British punctuation, editors at the Guardian checked their stylesheets and found so many exceptions to the period-quote marks rule that American style actually turns out to be easier to apply in practice. – The Raven Jul 27 '11 at 19:10
  • @TheRaven I'm glancing over the Guardian article, and it boils down to "put it outside, except when a full sentence is quoted, in which case put it in, because the period already existed in the sentence", which does seem logical to me, at least. – waiwai933 Jul 27 '11 at 19:34

Yes, the Chicago Manual of Style does indicate that the period can go outside the quote marks in order to avoid confusion. However, a quick rewrite solves the problem neatly:

The value “ID:” pre-pends all message IDs.

Commonly, with editorial problems, rewriting to avoid a problem gives a better result than ferreting out an obscure rule that, while in accord with a style guide, would still look suspicious or odd to a reader.

In other words, rewording to avoid difficult punctuation issues isn't a trick, or a shortcut, or an admission of guilt - it's standard editorial practice.

  • Thank you for the icing on the cake! Your suggestion obviates the need for an exception and deserves the "Why didn't I think of that?!" award. – John Tobler Jul 28 '11 at 20:29
  • Sometimes that is not entirely possible. For example, when listing a set of literal strings that are to by typed manually. Should the comma be in the quotations or outside? I would say outside to avoid the confusion and to emphasize the point that each item in the list is not a quoted word, but a literal set of letters. – yoozer8 Aug 18 '11 at 14:08
  • I have sometimes used single quotes around something that must be typed literally, and then have not felt obligated to stick the ending period inside. This probably violates someone's rule, but it has worked without complaint in some of the technical documentation I've written. Does anyone know if the "period inside" rule applies to single quotes? Example: All message IDs are pre-pended with the value 'ID:'. – John Tobler Aug 18 '11 at 22:12

Keep it as-is. The rule for putting sentence-final punctuation inside the quotation mark is mostly meant for actual quotations. In your case, the quote is in fact a verbatim string of characters, and putting the period inside the quotes would change its meaning. The usual rules for placement of quotation marks do not apply in this scenario.

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