Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A grammar moment: quotation marks

I have been observing very often of late serious misuse of end punctuation marks when combined with quotation marks, and as a public service, I will now clarify how the American rules apply.

First, periods and commas always go inside the closing quote mark, regardless of whether they are part of the quoted material:

Eric Moneymaker called "all in," and then he laid down his pair of aces.
After the politician lost the election recount, he commented that he had been "am-Bushed."

Second, colons and semicolons always go outside the closing quote mark, also regardless of whether they are part of the quoted material:

There is one essential step to becoming a "made man": killing someone.
"All's fair in love and war"; still, you might want to set some ground rules.

Finally, question marks and exclamation points will go inside the closing quote mark if they're part of the material being quoted, outside if they're part of the surrounding sentence:

Did I hear someone say "free beer"?
The crowd rose to its feet, yelling, "Free beer!"

One warning: These are the American rules. In Britain, the rules on commas, periods, colons, and semicolons are exactly reversed from the American rules. In Europe, the rules vary, but for the most part they seem to more closely resemble the British rules than the American ones. On this site, when I am quoting from British materials, I will use the British conventions as used in the source material, but for all other situations, I will use the American rules.


Anonymous Dr Pants said...

This is the really sad part. I love English and love to teach it. My mother is amazing at grammar. I suck. I never was good at it....Never.. Well, when I took it in college it wasn't a BIG DEAL! Here I am, going to school to be an English teacher, and the grammar class was a joke! Then, when I attempted to really learn it, I began to teach it to my students as well. It was for me AND them. Well, my superviser walks in during a lesson and says, "You should teach content and not grammar." That ruined it. I still get all crazy when people ask me to proof their work.

The saddest part of all of this: My mother, with 30 years of teaching under her belt, told me the same thing...when it came to writing. She said, "Write what you have to and then have someone else proof it." Sigh....

Fri Jul 22, 02:52:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

The way I work with my students is that I deal with both content and grammar. First, I have them deal with content only, because it's hugely difficult to get the ideas flowing if one is hung up on getting the grammar right. Once the students get the ideas out and organized, then it's time to make everything "look pretty," because, while ideas are important, so too is the presentation. I also have them work in pairs or small groups to proofread each other's work, teaming up students who have different grammatical trouble spots.

Fri Jul 22, 11:49:00 PM MDT  
Anonymous Jerry said...

While I know the rules, I chafe at being bound by decisions made by typesetters for reasons that don't apply anymore, and I often intentionally break the "period always inside the quotation mark" rule. I put it where it conveys the meaning of the sentence the best, which generally is whether is it part of the material being quoted, like the question mark.

I know I will drive editors crazy, and be considered sloppy by other. Editors will put them all back the "proper" way later, so I am just making more work for them. But if nobody bucks the arbitrary rules, we will be stuck with them forever.

Sun Jul 24, 12:29:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

There is certainly a logical argument in favor of treating the period in the same way as the question mark, and putting the period outside the closing quote mark if the period isn't part of the material quoted. You're right that the rule is arbitrary, and if you're willing to resist convention, you may do so.

However, if you're a student, and getting a passing grade depends on abiding by whatever rules your instructor uses, you'd better find out what rulebook your instructor uses. Up until now, my students have moved up from the department where I teach into a department where the faculty use very strictly prescriptivist methods to determine whether a student is worthy of promotion, and that includes abiding by many of the most arbitrary rules. Thus, while I do explain that some rules are not logical, I also advise students to abide by them. I also make a big distinction between rules that do make sense, such as sentence fragments and run-on sentences, which are absolute no-nos, and the more arbitrary cosmetic sort of rules.

Some of this may be changing in the near future. The community college where I teach is undergoing a major redisorganization, and I'm likely to end up teaching alongside the prescriptivist pedagogues who used to be in a different department. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to persuade them to lighten up.

Mon Jul 25, 12:17:00 AM MDT  
Anonymous Jesse said...

Fruit falls from trees. However in the case of you and Fuego, I am reminded of the apple trees in Wizard of OZ. I see your parents hucking you as far as they can to one side, and Fuego as far as they can to the other side. When it comes to grammar.

Tue Jul 26, 12:18:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Well, both my gradmas were grammarians, even if not exactly by profession -- one was a math teacher, and the other was a legal secretary. Still, there's a certain amount of mathematical logic behind much of grammar, such as parallelism and subject-verb agreement, and correct grammar is crucial in legal documents, where a misplaced comma can change entire meanings.

As for fuego ... Well, by the time he came along, the parental units had become much more mellow; they gave up on trying to get him to keep his room clean and simply shut the door.

Wed Jul 27, 12:14:00 AM MDT  
Anonymous Jesse said...

I encourage you to set yourself up as a 'goto' person for grammar questions. I'll start: when do you use 'someone' vs 'somebody'? 'No one' vs 'no body' and is it 'no one' or 'noone'?

When do you use 'lying' vs 'laying'?

[hoping I got the question marks in the right place]

Wed Jul 27, 08:45:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

Chickens lay eggs.

Lazy people can be found lying around.

The lying politician laid a big egg with his last speech because the audience wouldn't take his lies lying down.

Then there's an obscure use of lay as a sort of poetic ballad or epic, and some not so obscure uses of lay ... but that's getting into Dr. Pant's turf.

Wed Jul 27, 04:31:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Jesse, in indefinite pronouns, there is no real distinction between "-one" and "-body"; just use the one that sounds best or makes the syllable count in the haiku work. "No one" is two separate words; all the rest of the indefinite pronouns are run together as one word.

Lie means "to recline," and it doesn't have a direct object; the person doing it is doing it to him- or herself, not to some other object.

Lay means "to put (something) down," so it does have a direct object.

What makes things confusing is that some of the forms of the verbs overlap -- for example, the past tense of lie is lay, so people who aren't careful can get them mixed up.

And the vast majority of American dogs learn improper grammar -- they are commanded to "lay down" instead of to "lie down."

Wed Jul 27, 11:33:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

I cast my "vote" for "logical" punctuation.

At least we English writers have fewer "squigglies" to put over and under our letters compared to Czech writers.

Thu Jul 28, 12:26:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

In Britain, would the crowd have "risen to _their_ feet"?

Or would they be already too soused to manage such an athletic exhibition?

Thu Jul 28, 12:28:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Pat, that's an interesting one. Technically, the Americans are correct more often than the British on this issue, one of the few in which that's the case.

A collective noun is almost always treated as singular, and that rule is true in proper British usage as well as American. The exception is when the members of the group are not all doing the same thing.

The couple was enjoying the movie immensely.
The couple weren't in agreement over where to go for dessert afterward.

Fri Jul 29, 12:19:00 AM MDT  

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