Below is the sentence I am writing. I am not sure whether I should just end it with an interrogation mark within the quotes, with a period within the quotes, no in-quote punctuation except interrogation mark, or a period outside the quotation marks.

Those of you without any experience with drug or alcohol addiction are probably reading this scratching your heads thinking, “WTF is this guy talking about, if their problem is not drugs or alcohol how can they be classified as an addict or an alcoholic and why do they consistently abuse drugs or alcohol. How is that not their problem when they can't hold down a job or take their kids to school because they're always under the ...
... influence?”.
... influence?”
... influence”.
... influence.”
... influence”?

Which alternative should I use?


2 Answers 2


My answer is not really in the other threads except partially in the comments from programmers, so here goes. First, instead of looking for a single correct way to do things, I think it's more helpful to think about what is acceptable and understandable to your audience. Your real-world experience will more effective and less confusing this way because different audiences have different expectations and conventions.

Below are a few variations that I find acceptable and understandable, with notes on the type of audience that I think they best fit. Your original paragraph was understandable and possibly good for people who like smooth-flowing text that reads a lot like speech. But I think it could also use more-informative capitalization and punctuation to clarify the structure for others. I added these changes in the first example, in case they're useful.

1) Those of you without any experience with drug or alcohol addiction are probably reading this scratching your heads thinking:

"WTF is this guy talking about? If their problem is not drugs or alcohol, how can they be classified as an addict or an alcoholic? And why do they consistently abuse drugs or alcohol? How is that not their problem when they can't hold down a job or take their kids to school because they're always under the influence?" [scientists, mathematicians]

2) Those of you...thinking "WTF...the influence?". [programmers]

3) Those of you...thinking, "WTF...the influence?" [people who read English prescriptive grammar books (whether they are grammar snobs or perfectly nice people seeking the knowledge or opinion of other language users)]

Also, I'm very curious why you put those first two commas there. Do you pause when you say the sentence there, or were you thinking about the sentence structurally? I'm just curious.

Edit to add examples for suspect advice. As far as I know, you cannot search for punctuation on google because they ignore it. However, there are some search engines that intentionally include punctuation, and they luckily happen to be aimed at programmers. Here are the results from a search for ?"., which got 247 hits. Interestingly, most of them appear to be from SO (StackOverflow, a Q&A site for programmers). Some examples:

  1. I asked the question "Will Rebol 3 extension support any windows api call including those requiring callback ?".
  2. None of these answers address what I understand to be the question, which is what I was searching for, "how do I handle items that have visibility == hidden?".
  3. Question was "How can I then find out the application running time ?".

For comparison, a search for ?" gets 5,258 hits (trying to include a terminal space made no difference). However, here are some examples showing that this returns lots of what in our case are false-positives since the quote doesn't end the sentence:

  1. How to detect “has user selected entire document or not ?” in html javascript
  2. Bind collection as the right-hand-side of a “where col in ?” clause
  3. Our project application uses Java 5 and now when I update Java 6, there are some kind of inconsistency with functionality and seeing this effects our manager passed comment that "Java is platform independent but version dependent", Is it really true ?

This last example is notable because they use the comma outside of the quotes, but the title is Is it correct to say that “Java is platform independent but version dependent ?”. So it's not always obvious what people are thinking.

Wikipedia also notes this "logical" style, though in connection with the UK and "science and technical publications".

  • I think, Rachel, that "[people who read English prescriptive grammar books]" should be changed to "[people who believe that prescriptive grammar books about English are infallibly and literally The Truth]". I read them but do not conform to your pejorative stereotype of people who read such -- what shall I call it, "heresy", "blasphemy", "obscenity", "profanity", or "regulatory garbage"?
    – user21497
    Aug 24, 2012 at 22:50
  • @billfranke: I didn't mean it pejoratively. I do dislike grammar Nazis, but if you call a group Nazis, that's to be expected. My reason for using that description was that people who read English prescriptive grammar books should consider that case understandable even if they don't personally prefer it, and if people do adhere to such books, then they should also find it acceptable. I tried a list, but it got long and was less accurate. It began "writers, editors, English majors", but plenty of those people would prefer one of the other cases. Granted, generalizations often have exceptions.
    – Rachel
    Aug 24, 2012 at 23:05
  • 1
    @RoaringFish: If you insist on using the pejorative sense after I have already explained that I mean the other sense, then that is not my problem. That's like calling everyone a racist who uses the word black.
    – Rachel
    Aug 27, 2012 at 9:47
  • 2
    The word 'prescriptivist' is not pejorative. 'Descriptivist' is equally lacking. Of course one can use either disparagingly.
    – Mitch
    Aug 27, 2012 at 13:02
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth: It would be out of scope for questions/answers/comments here to discuss the merits of prescriptivism or descriptivism over the other. Please start up a conversation at chat about it.
    – Mitch
    Aug 27, 2012 at 15:06

User your intuition and create a standard for yourself. Here's mine:

  • Lexical rhetorical questions that are meant to invoke thought take a question mark:

    Is it the right thing to do? What would Sharon say?

  • Rhetorical questions that would be or are embedded in conditionals take a period:

    It was our fifth night on stakeout, hunger was starting to set in, and our vigilance was starting to dwindle. We began to wonder, 'would the criminal would emerge from his nest anytime soon.' Three hours gooped by.

  • Exclamatory rhetorical that demands an answer, embedded similarly to the above, takes an exclamation point:

    I was there, man! You ask yourself what you would have done!

  • Exclamatory rhetorical questions that are not embedded as above take an exclamation point and a question mark:

    You TALK TOO MUCH! What the Hell do you fracking mean!? ! SKIP TO THE POINT!

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