Quote Mine

I would like to take a moment to talk with my American readers here. Topic? Quotation marks. As an editor of international flavors of English as well as American, I can understand that there are various methods of using quotation marks depending on geography. Consistency and context are the keys.

In American writing, there are some set standards governing the placement of quotation marks (they can be a bit complicated, yes). First, let’s talk about when to use them.

  • Use quotation marks when you are quoting a source directly (i.e., word for word) or quoting the attitude of a group that is not necessarily your own when you are reporting that attitude. (This is sometimes referred to as scare quotes because it can undermine what is quoted.)
  • Do not use quotes if you are summarizing, to emphasize (that’s what italics are for), or to set words off.

Next, let’s talk placement in American English:

  • Quote marks always go after a comma or a period.
  • “This is the rule.”
  • Quote marks always go before a semicolon or colon.
  • The group said, “Chocolate”; they bought vanilla.
  • Quote marks go after the question mark when a question is being quoted. (This is true of exclamation points as well.)
  • He asked, “What’s the square root of 894?”
  • Quote marks go before the question mark when the quote is not a question.
  • How do we find this “snipe”?

3 thoughts on “Quote Mine

  1. As an American amateur writer and editor, I’ve always found the American rules to be stupid. And in my field of science, they can sometimes lead to confusion.

    • I certainly don’t disagree with you, considering the American rules are arbitrary compared to other systems. The English system makes more sense, but for now, we have what we have.

  2. Even though I disliked the concept, I thought question marks and exclamation points always went inside the quotation marks. How pleasant to know I was wrong.

    I enjoy your blog. Almost every post makes me wonder how I managed to make it through high school and college English classes. I am sure anyone who’s read my prose has wondered the same. Keep up the good work!

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