I’m working on a book that cites the titles of many short poems, customarily set inside quotation marks. The quotation marks serve to identify the poem as a single ‎entity rather than to indicate any sort of dialog. So I’m wondering if it is preferable to put commas and periods after ‎such titles:

“Old Poem” was written ten years before “New Poem”.‎

I've looked around and the usual rule is that in American usage the quotation marks always come after the punctuation. One source gave an exception for single letters or numbers as in the following:

A common algebraic variable is 'X'.

The logic of putting a period (or comma) after the quotation marks in the math example, and similarly with poem titles, seems very strong to me. Is there any reason American usage handles quotation marks the same way for direct speech compared with other uses? Should I defy convention and go with logic? Seeing the punctuation inside the quotation marks strongly implies quoted speech to my eyes.

  • Welcome to EL&U. What is your source for the quoting of single letters? By and large the use of quotation marks is a matter of style, and you should adhere to the discipline of your editor, publication, or organization, or in the absence of a house style, adopt a style manual appropriate to your tastes and audience and be consistent in its application. – choster Mar 14 '18 at 15:27
  • I believe 'American usage' and 'British usage' are far less accurate when used as labels for punctuation next to terminal inverted commas than for say choosing between 'bonnet' and 'hood' when speaking about a car. An auto. And things become very difficult with examples such as [the following obviously in a written medium]: "She says you've marked her answer to question 6 wrongly. Did she write 'The man stabbed the giant' or 'The man stabbed the giant.'?" – Edwin Ashworth Mar 14 '18 at 15:43
  • I neglected to note the site where I found the rule about quoting single letters; it was early on in my research and it seemed very sensible to me (not realizing that this would be the only place to give this exception). Edwin: The rules about quotation marks are complicated, but it's generally true that American students are taught always to place commas and periods inside while in the UK they go outside (unless part of what is quoted). – Southwindows Mar 14 '18 at 17:44
  • For quoting titles, I’d put any punctuation included in the title itself within the quotes. Any of my own punctuation goes outside the quote. Otherwise it would be a misquote. I’m British educated. – Pam Mar 14 '18 at 19:37

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