English English language Grammar Punctuation Usage

Quote école

Q: I just discovered your blog and enjoyed reading several entries, although I noticed a small error in the recent post about British and American punctuation. The closing quotation mark in the British example should be inside the period, or rather the full stop, as the British say.

A: We’re glad to hear that you’re enjoying the blog. But our Oct. 29 post is punctuated correctly.

As you note, and as we’ve written before on our blog, British style often calls for placing periods outside closing quotation marks.

Often, but not always. The example we used in our blog post is an exception.

Here’s what The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.) has to say in a paragraph devoted to the British style for punctuating quotations:

“Single quotation marks are used, and only those punctuation points that appeared in the original material should be included within the quotation marks; all others follow the closing quotation marks. (Exceptions to the rule are widespread: periods, for example are routinely placed inside any quotation that begins with a capital letter and forms a grammatically complete sentence.) Double quotation marks are reserved for quotations within quotations.”

The sentence we used as an illustration is a typical example of this exception: As Professor Witherspoon told us, ‘The word “fructify” means to bear fruit.’

The quotation begins with a capital letter and is a grammatically complete sentence, so the period is placed BEFORE the closing quotation mark.

Keep reading. And keep reading so closely. We like our readers to keep us on our toes.

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