Punctuation Rules For Quotations
Written by: Virginia Lori Jennings
I always keep my edition of ‘A Writers Reference'(Hacker, 2009) on my desk for reference to while I am writing. I can occasionally find a grammar rule that I know but sometimes forget in the middle of writing and have to go back and fix it. However, it is VERY rare that I come across a grammar rule that I have never heard of! Yesterday was one of those days!
I decided on a whim to see if this book has particular rules about quotations that I didn’t know. After all, characters do speak a lot in books. To my surprise and shock there were a few that I didn’t know. I picked up a few books off of my shelf and it is scarily apparent that some other editors do not know all of these rules as well.
An example from ‘A Writers Reference’:
“If a quotation appears at the begining of a sentence set it off with a comma unless the quotation ends with a question mark or an exclamation point.”
“We should go to the store,” Anna said. (Not- “We should go to the store.” Anna said.)
“Why?” I asked.
Another example from ‘A Writers Reference’.
“If a quoted sentence is interrupted by explanatory words, use commas to set off the explanatory words.”
“Please,” said Henry, “don’t get so upset.” (notice the sentence- please don’t get so upset- is interrupted here so you use a comma after Henry)
However (from ‘A Writers Reference’).
“If two successive quoted sentences from the same source are interrupted by explanatory words, use a comma before the explanatory words and a period after them.”
“Lets go to the store,” Anna said. “I want to go get some milk.” (notice that – Lets go to the store. and -I want to go get so me milk. Are two complete sentences… therefore you put a comma after store and a period after said.)
I see these rules ignored so many times in books. Sometimes the author will correctly use a comma and other times they will use a period for the same type of sentence. Twilight by Stephanie Mayers is full of them, and so is a Star Trek novel that I have on my shelf published by Pocket Books…. And yet…. Harry potter does not have these inconsistencies. The differences? Perhaps the bigger publishing house has a more attentive editor.
So if other publishing houses ignore them why should we pay any attention? Because my dear reader, in this world where there are millions upon millions of books it is important to do what you can to make sure your book is polished to its highest standard!
Another thing I have seen misused is the use of the ellipses dots (…).
Should you still put a period at the end of a quotation if you have used ellipsis? What if it is at the end of a sentence? Here is a good resource for what to do with ellipses dots: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/marks/ellipsis.htm
Another fast reference for quotation marks and punctuations is: http://learningnerd.wordpress.com/2006/09/22/english-punctuation-dashes-parentheses-quotation-marks-and-ellipses/
Also, according to ‘A Writers Reference’ (2009), please remember:
“In dialogue, begin a new paragraph to mark a change in speaker.”
“Please stop,” said Henry.
“Why?” Sarah asked.
(note the two different people speaking, here you give each of these speakers a new paragraph indent each time they switch)
Or (‘A Writers Reference’ 2009)
“If a single speaker utters more than one paragraph, introduce each new paragraph with quotation marks, but do not use closing quotation marks until the end of the speech.”
Also keep in mind that a grammar checker is NO GOOD at checking punctuation rules pertaining to quotation marks! You will have to go back and check these yourself :/.
I hope you enjoyed these quick tips. If I find any more surprising grammar or punctuation rules I’ll be sure to write you up a blog on it! Thanks for stopping by to read, feel free to leave a comment or a question. I am always happy to try to help fellow writers!