The Grammarphobia Blog

Is Barcelona the best?

Q: I am writing from Bangalore with an issue that may seem nit-picking, but I want to get it right. Which of these sentences is correct? (1) “We are the best,” roared Barcelona. (2) “We are the best”, roared Barcelona. The point is the placement of the comma.

A: The American system of punctuation always calls for placing a comma or period inside the closing quotation marks: “We are the best,” roared Barcelona. Or: Barcelona roared, “We are the best.”

But the British system often calls for placing the comma or period outside the quotation marks: “We are the best”, roared Barcelona. Or: Barcelona roared, “We are the best”. This is true, for example, if what’s being quoted is only part of the original; the fans might actually have cried, “We are the best in the hemisphere!”

As for colons and semicolons, Americans always place them outside the closing quotation marks: “We are the best”; the crowd was deafening.

The British sometimes place a colon or semicolon outside closing quotation marks and sometimes inside them. But the colon or semicolon goes inside only if it’s part of the original quotation.

Question marks and exclamation points are treated the same way in both the American and the British systems. The question mark or exclamation point is placed inside the closing quotation marks only if it’s part of the quotation.

Which system should you follow? The country in which you find yourself generally has an affinity for one system or the other, American English or British English.

I’d go with whatever system is more common where you live. I imagine that you (writing from India) should follow the British system.

If you’d like a bit of brushing up, I wrote a blog entry a couple of years ago about how to use quotation marks with other punctuation, at least in American usage. And I wrote one last year on how to punctuate a question within a question.

In case you’re interested in more about American versus British English, I wrote a blog item last year about a similar question, the differences in the way
prepositions are handled from country to country. And I devote a whole chapter of my new book, Origins of the Specious, to myths about American and British English.

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