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  1. #1
    gorikaz is offline Member
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    Default Punctuation: U.S v.s. British style

    Dear native speakers (this time, especially, U.S., Canada, and U.K.),

    I have long been confronting the problem related to the usage of commas and periods in quotation marks. I know that periods and commas are placed inside quotation marks in U.S. style; but they are not in British style.

    Example)
    U.S. style) I said, "I cannot do this."
    British style) I said, "I cannot do this".


    Here are my questions:
    1. Is it really true?
    2. Do British/Canadian people use double quotation marks in such a case, not single quotation marks? Or does it depend on the writer (which to use, single or double quotation marks)?
    3. Is it true that, in American style, commas and periods are placed outside quotation marks if the word enclosed in quotation marks is only one letter or a number?
    e.g., This is "1", not "10".
    e.g., This is called "X".

    Someone, please, please help me clarify these points:

  2. #2
    jlinger is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Punctuation: U.S v.s. British style

    A basic, and unalterable rule, in American and Canadian English, is that a comma and a period ALWAYS go inside the quotation marks. ALWAYS. But then, there are always exceptions. If the period would confuse the matter, then it goes outside. For example, if you were writing "to end this command, hit 'E'" then you would put a period outside the quotes. More wisely, you would recast the sentence to say, "to end this command, hit the 'E' key."

    Now, the British say that the "full stop" (as they call it) and the comma go OUTSIDE the quote marks if that punctuation was NOT included in the quotation. The problem is, they forget the "if" part of that rule. They tend to always put it outside, regardless of whether the quotation included a full stop, or not. This is plain wrong, but then, "they invented it" so we have to tolerate their idiosyncrasies.

    In America/Canada, if the full quote was:
    I love you.
    Then in those countries you would say, "I heard him say, 'I love you.'"

    In British English (including NZ and AUS), you will find
    "I heard him say, 'I love you'."

    Bizarre, but true.

    Now, as for the double quotes:

    The American/Cdn usage is to use a double quote first, with interior quote as single, and one inside that as double again, etc.

    The Brits will start with the single quote mark, then move to double quotes, then single, etc.

    I think this is all a part of proving what Mark Twain said: that we are "two great nations divided by a common language."

  3. #3
    stuartnz's Avatar
    stuartnz is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Punctuation: U.S v.s. British style

    As a native English speaker, I largely agree with jlinger's summary of the difference between Nth American punctuation practice and British practice.

    I disagree with two elements of their reply. Firstly and most importantly, in no variant of any living language is there any such thing as an "unalterable rule". The second element of their reply I disagree with is their subjective use of the word "bizarre" to describe British practice. The Wikipedia article on the subject has a more neutral and descriptivist assessment, including a summary of the reason for the differences between the two systems:

    The traditional convention in American English is for commas and periods to be included inside the quotation marks, regardless of whether they are part of the quoted sentence, while the British style places them in or outside of the quotation marks according to whether or not the punctuation is part of the quoted phrase. The American rule is derived from typesetting while the British rule is grammatical (see below for more explanation). Although the terms American style and British style are used, it is not as clear cut as that because at least one major British newspaper prefers typesetters' quotation (punctuation inside) and BBC News uses both styles, while scientific and technical publications, even in the U.S., almost universally use logical quotation (punctuation outside unless part of the source material), due to its precision.
    As with many such differences, the American rule follows an older British standard. Before the advent of mechanical type, the order of quotation marks with periods and commas was not given much consideration. The printing press required that the easily damaged smallest pieces of type for the comma and period be protected behind the more robust quotation marks.[9] The typesetter’s rule was standard in early 19th century Britain, and the U.S. style still adheres to this older tradition both in everyday use and in non-technical formal writing. The grammatical rule was advocated by the extremely influential book The King’s English, by Fowler and Fowler.
    That wikipedia article also gives examples of situations in which American usage does NOT follow the allegedly "unalterable" rule jlinger outlined. I'm not the world's biggest fan of Wikipedia, but this article is worth looking at.
    Last edited by stuartnz; 09-Oct-2008 at 04:38.

  4. #4
    gorikaz is offline Member
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    Default Re: Punctuation: U.S v.s. British style

    Quote Originally Posted by jlinger View Post
    A basic, and unalterable rule, in American and Canadian English, is that a comma and a period ALWAYS go inside the quotation marks. ALWAYS. But then, there are always exceptions. If the period would confuse the matter, then it goes outside. For example, if you were writing "to end this command, hit 'E'" then you would put a period outside the quotes. More wisely, you would recast the sentence to say, "to end this command, hit the 'E' key."

    Now, the British say that the "full stop" (as they call it) and the comma go OUTSIDE the quote marks if that punctuation was NOT included in the quotation. The problem is, they forget the "if" part of that rule. They tend to always put it outside, regardless of whether the quotation included a full stop, or not. This is plain wrong, but then, "they invented it" so we have to tolerate their idiosyncrasies.

    In America/Canada, if the full quote was:
    I love you.
    Then in those countries you would say, "I heard him say, 'I love you.'"

    In British English (including NZ and AUS), you will find
    "I heard him say, 'I love you'."

    Bizarre, but true.

    Now, as for the double quotes:

    The American/Cdn usage is to use a double quote first, with interior quote as single, and one inside that as double again, etc.

    The Brits will start with the single quote mark, then move to double quotes, then single, etc.

    I think this is all a part of proving what Mark Twain said: that we are "two great nations divided by a common language."
    Your comment was very informative and helped me a lot understand this matter. I really appreciate it!

  5. #5
    jlinger is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Punctuation: U.S v.s. British style

    I agree with you 100% Stuart. There are no unalterable rules.

    My use of "bizarre" was not a slur to the English custom. It was a slam against the needless stupidity of the evolution of our common language having diverged is so many ways! We would all be more comfortable with a common language, yet someone (many years ago) screwed that up for us!

    Can anyone cite a good reason for the fact that Canadians put two Ls in Jewellery but only one in Enrolment, whereas the Americans would do the reverse?

    And this period inside/outside thing is very similar to a concurrent discussion here on the double space after a period. The custom was entrenched (in America/Canada) when typesetting with custom-kerned blocks were created. Originally, remember, there was NO punctuation. Try reading the Book of Kells. Then came the printing press. And shortly thereafter, the concept of artistic, attractive type placement, called "kerning" - meaning how close one character came to another.

    It appeared to some that that full-stop (period) hanging outside the quotation marks was inelegant, so they slipped it inside. It simply looked nicer. And that's why some (Americans/Canadians to some extent) follow that custom and others (British, vehemently) resist.
    Last edited by jlinger; 09-Oct-2008 at 04:46.

  6. #6
    stuartnz's Avatar
    stuartnz is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Punctuation: U.S v.s. British style

    Quote Originally Posted by jlinger View Post
    I agree with you 100% Stuart. There are no unalterable rules.
    If so, why did you use the phrase? I'm sorry, but I don't see that mutually intelligible communication between the different variants of native English has been "screwed up" at all, and most especially not by minutiae such as the location of punctuation. I am a passionate fan of English in all its flavours, and think that the differences in vocabulary and usage enhance the language as a whole. I also strongly disagree that there is any "needless stupidity" about the variations in English around the world. Those changes were inevitable, not needless or stupid.
    Last edited by stuartnz; 09-Oct-2008 at 04:51.

  7. #7
    gorikaz is offline Member
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    Default Re: Punctuation: U.S v.s. British style

    Quote Originally Posted by stuartnz View Post
    As a native English speaker, I largely agree with jlinger's summary of the difference between Nth American punctuation practice and British practice.

    I disagree with two elements of their reply. Firstly and most importantly, in no variant of any living language is there any such thing as an "unalterable rule". The second element of their reply I disagree with is their subjective use of the word "bizarre" to describe British practice. The Wikipedia article on the subject has a more neutral and descriptivist assessment, including a summary of the reason for the differences between the two systems:

    That wikipedia article also gives examples of situations in which American usage does NOT follow the allegedly "unalterable" rule jlinger outlined. I'm not the world's biggest fan of Wikipedia, but this article is worth looking at.
    Thank you for your reference and also comments on this matter. Your reference--from wikipedia--was worth reading, I think. By the way, I did not know that even in the U.S., commas and periods are placed inside the quotation marks when it comes to scientific and technical publications. Hmmm, does this mean that we should have two differnt ways of writing styles, depending on what kind of paper/publication we deal with??
    Last edited by gorikaz; 09-Oct-2008 at 04:51.

  8. #8
    jlinger is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Punctuation: U.S v.s. British style

    Quote Originally Posted by stuartnz View Post
    If so, why did you use the phrase?
    Stuart, I think you'll find that the very next statement after I used that phrase was, "But then, there are always exceptions."

    And there are!

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Punctuation: U.S v.s. British style

    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz View Post
    Hmmm, does this mean that we should have two differnt ways of writing styles, depending on what kind of paper/publication we deal with??
    If you are writing for publication it is always important to know what style and usage guidelines are followed by the publication you are writing for. If you are hoping that a certain publication will accept and publish your work, following that publication's preferred style will greatly increase your chances of success.

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    gorikaz is offline Member
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    Default Re: Punctuation: U.S v.s. British style

    Quote Originally Posted by stuartnz View Post
    If you are writing for publication it is always important to know what style and usage guidelines are followed by the publication you are writing for. If you are hoping that a certain publication will accept and publish your work, following that publication's preferred style will greatly increase your chances of success.
    I see...

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