Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Prefer the British Style of Quotation Mark Punctuation over the American (erichgrunewald.com)
591 points by erwald 1 day ago | hide | past | favorite | 375 comments

Hackers tend to use quotes as balanced delimiters like parentheses, much to the dismay of American editors. Thus, if “Jim is going” is a phrase, and so are “Bill runs” and “Spock groks”, then hackers generally prefer to write: “Jim is going”, “Bill runs”, and “Spock groks”. This is incorrect according to standard American usage (which would put the continuation commas and the final period inside the string quotes); however, it is counter-intuitive to hackers to mutilate literal strings with characters that don't belong in them. Given the sorts of examples that can come up in discussions of programming, American-style quoting can even be grossly misleading. When communicating command lines or small pieces of code, extra characters can be a real pain in the neck.


I've always written it in "British style" myself because that's what we do in Dutch and I never considered there might be another way to do things, and it wasn't until someone "corrected" me just a few years ago that I even noticed the "American style" exists, in spite of having read countless books and articles which use it. Even now, when reading something I don't really notice unless I pay attention to it.

Based on this, I think it doesn't really matter, either in aesthetics or clarity.

Also, us Dutch get taught British English at school so it makes sense for us even in English.

Most non-native speakers don't really use "British" or "American" English anyway, but rather a mixture of both, not infrequently unaware that a particular word or phrase belongs to one or the other variant. My English girlfriend didn't know what "parenthesis" are for example; turns out it's very much an American thing – I had no idea – and it's brackets in British English apparently. There's been a few other confusions like this, and I still can't remember if "lift" is the American and "elevator" the British or vice-versa.

> not infrequently unaware

So, often unaware?

The British style is also consistent here. Question marks are outside the quotes in both styles.

I have to say, a career in software engineering has destroyed my enthusiasm for this typographically-motivated punctuation rule. And I had no idea it was just an American thing.

It’s an æsthetic choice in the end. If I could put the period below the quotation mark, then I would do so as I already do in writing.

> It’s an æsthetic choice in the end.

Æsthetic is misplaced pedantry, since the word comes from Greek through German, rather than Latin.


> misplaced pedantry

Them's mighty strong words there.

> since the word comes from Greek through German, rather than Latin.

That's not a rule. Remember, this is language. It does seems like a dated spelling though, similar to "coöperate". It shows up in 19th century publishing.

I still see it in some publications on occasion, but it's rare. I often write it as "coöperate" myself as well; it clarifies that the ö starts a new syllable and that it's "co-operate" rather than "coo-perate" with a single long o sound: it's just something you need to know. I find it regrettable that this has fallen out of favour, and especially with English becoming the de-facto world language I think there's some value in making the spelling and pronunciation closer when possible.

It is regrettable. As far as I know, the New Yorker is the only major publication that upholds the honor of the dieresis.

This is all sorts of meta.



Meta is a four-letter word.

I just use American-style except in cases where it would introduce confusion, since it does in fact look better on the page.

Not if you are used to the British style.

Here's something that might clinch it for you:

Does this "look better on the page"?

Does this "look better on the page?"

The former must be correct, since the quote was not a question, and turning it into one would not be a fair quotation. Why should its status as a question change where we put the end of sentence marker?

The same argument applies to the period, since the quoted phrase may not have included one.

Note that both American and British usage put a question mark outside the quotation marks. Only periods and commas are placed within the quotation marks in American style.

Nit: unless the question mark is part of the quote itself.

He asked her, “do you prefer the American style?”

> Not if you are used to the British style.

It's not a "used to" thing. The British style introduces white space gaps that don't look good. It's like ending a sentence with a space .

> The former must be correct

IMHO, "correctness" in the sense of "here's exact the character string that occurred in that other document, and anything else is wrong," is kind of a programmer POV. A looser sense of correctness is perfectly fine.

> The British style introduces white space gaps that don't look good.

Sure they do, to me. The comma you inserted between the end of the quote and the closing quotation mark looks bad to me, because I have a strong expectation of the opposite. That esthetic feeling you have is how 'used to' manifests.

Also the US spelling of 'esthetic' is ugly to those expecting 'aesthetic'. I'm sure the British spelling looks pretentious to Americans.

“Aesthetic” is widely used in the US as well. When I (a US person) see “esthetic” used in this way, it looks like a mistake to me—I associate that spelling with the cosmetics/beauty industry (i.e., "estheticians").

That’s why we have backticks for inline code to resolve this ambiguity.

Also, by this and the author’s argument, shouldn’t there actually be two periods? One inside the quote and one outside? (The author does address this, to their credit.).

As a programmer, I’d prefer a combination of the two:

Dr Johnson kicked a large rock and said, as his foot rebounded, “I refute it thus.”.

as I think it’s weird that a punctuation mark inside a quote can end the sentence that contains the quote.

I’d argue like this: in the above case there are two sentences, the quote and the sentence that contains the quote. Both need to be terminated with a period.

A footnote in the article addresses this: "More logical still would be to have two periods, one marking the end of the quoted sentence and the other the end of the top-level sentence. But that would be redundant and also look ugly."

I tend to agree with the author. While it's logically consistent, it's typographically redundant. There's no need to end a sentence with a full stop, a quotation mark, another full stop, and then a space, before beginning the next sentence with a capital letter.

I don't see why it is redundant. There is no reason to assume that the quoted sentence ends the quoting sentence. Imagine this being the last thing you see on a page. Without turning the page, there would be no way of knowing whether the quoting sentence is complete.

But these things are just conventions. It's futile to demand any kind of logic or consistency.

This is the kind of thing that really annoy programmers (because in programming languages, you can never omit things like this), but everyone else is perfectly fine with.

As a programmer though, it certainly annoys me!

I feel the same way, but I think programmers should hold their feelings and just pick up an APA, MLA or Chicago style guide or whatever the equivalent is if you're writing in British English and embrace the rules. Or if you're publishing, let an editor fix your stuff.

Every effort to make a logically consistent "engineered" language has so far failed by any reasonable measure, notably, Esperanto. Others have tried and had even less success than Esperanto. For things to even change in language usage there really has to be a pain point or some kind of trauma or isolation. Mere aspiration for aesthetics or logical consistency isn't enough. How did the American English come to be anyway? A bunch of people got on boats and went to a remote wild continent and stayed there. Forever.

This is sound, pragmatic advice. But it doesn't mean we have to like it.

> everyone else is perfectly fine with

My newspaper will shorten "United States" to "U.S.", and not add an extra period at the end of a sentence. (Not sure if the spaces are different widths.) When the next word would naturally start with a capital letter it can be difficult to tell whether the sentence ends after the abbreviation, sometimes making for garden-path sentences.

>> There have been some rumblings inside the U.S. Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer said in an interview...

Though I am a programmer, so maybe it is just us...

In fact in some programming languages you can (or should) omit things like this. E.g. pascal does not require or explicitly forbids semicolon before end keyword.

See also automatic semicolon insertion in JavaScript, and conditional permission to omit closing <p> tags in HTML.



Pascal is fully self-consistent here: in it, semicolon is a statement separator, not a statement terminator. Since the statement before "end" is the last one in the block, there's no statement to separate it from with a trailing semicolon, and so it's a syntax error.

Pascal permits a null production for the statement grammar.

    simple-statement = 
            | assignment-statement
            | procedure-statement
            | goto-statement .

    empty-statement = .
from http://www.pascal-central.com/iso7185.html#6.8%20Statements (ISO 7185 Pascal)

In practice the separator-vs-terminator distinction mostly shows up in if-statements:

  if foo then
I believe that anywhere else in a statement context, you can put in as many extra ';' as you like and it won't make a difference. And of course you can drop the final ';' before 'end' or 'until'.

It's not a syntax error.

Correct - the redundant semi-colon denotes an empty statement.

In those day when moving cursors with full screen editor (which is Not vi or Emacs), how many hours of my life wasted on this deletion of semicolons. Sigh.

Still I actually struggled each time this given not exactly sure I am in English or American camp.

It is redundant because the punctuation is mainly there to indicate pausing or transitioning, but the quotes already indicate a change in voice, which is also a pause/transition.

To that end, I am struggling to think of a time where the punctuation at the end of a quote really mattered. Even exclamations are less necessary, with the support of the surrounding sentance. Consider; they screamed "stop" to get the attention of everyone. And, "stop!" they screamed. In both, the change of voice to the quoted word is about the same.

Yes; so the period inside the quotes is redundant, and that one should be removed.

The outside sentence can continue after the quote; the terminating period outside of the quote is necessary if the sentence is ending there.

We know that the quote has ended with the closing quote, and so we can agree on the convention that there is an implied period there, if the quoted material is a complete clause with subject and verb. If it needs some other punctuation like a question mark, then that is explicit.

> He asked me "what time is it?".

The ? ends the question, the . ends the sentence that contains the embedded question.

The enclosing sentence can continue:

> He asked me "what time is it?" but hurriedly walked away as I glanced at my watch.

Now you positively, definitely cannot remove the period after "watch". Why would you remove it if the words "but ... watch" are deleted?

This stuff is simply too important to leave in the hands of people who have never written a compiler.

It's not the only element of style that may seem illogical, there are many more. Off the top of my head:

* Nested parentheses. (In theory, you could use any level needed (provided that they make sense), but in practice, they're scoffed at.) It is similar with quotes, for the same reasons: limited readability - although here you can at least juggle with single, double and French quotes, depending on the language and style guide used.

* Repetitions: unless used as a stylistic device (in poetry, advertising, etc.), your editors will try to modify repeated words, trying to find synonyms. In technical writing, it is an abomination, and competent editors know very well they must not touch any specific terms, no matter how often repeated, as they have very precise meaning.

But in general, the rules present in style guides are meant to ensure consistency and uniform reading experience, so that the reader is not distracted by form and can concentrate on the meaning, so they are a good thing as long as people are aware these are just arbitrary rules separate from spelling and grammar.

In general writing, you have to be careful to balance repetition. At one extreme is what's been called "elegant variation"[0] and at the other is monotonous repetition, which hurts readability.

But, as you say, in technical writing, it's enormously irritating. I do a fair bit of freelance writing, and it pisses me off no end when editors and clients change a technical term for an apparent near synonym because they don't understand the nuance. It makes the sentence nonsensical and makes me look as though I don't know what I'm talking about.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elegant_variation

> * Nested parentheses. (In theory, you could use any level needed (provided that they make sense), but in practice, they're scoffed at.) It is similar with quotes, for the same reasons: limited readability - although here you can at least juggle with single, double and French quotes, depending on the language and style guide used.

Any level of nested parenthesis is fine (is what I think at least (as someone who's written a bit of Lisp of Lisp (or Racket and Clojure specifically) (because you get kinda used to it (when in a way they just become invisible (or unnoticeable))))). But nested quotations is also an issue with backtick (`) when doing command substitution in the shell, and we have to resort to $() to fix it. There's not really a $()-like syntax for written English though.

There's not really a $()-like syntax for written English though.

There sort of is, if you use "smart" quotes. “Hard to find on a phone keyboard though, and not that distinct.”

Parsing nested parens requires stack, which humans are vary bad at handling. So writing in this style will be harder to read compared to linear style that people are used to. There are topics inherently nonlinear, but they are often linearized or directly drawn in 2d space.

Also most languages already support nested clause structures without the use of parentheses.

They do, but there's a limit to how much recursive embedding the average reader can cope with, especially if the writer embeds a lot of modifying clauses in the middle of the main clause so the reader is left waiting for information they need to make sense of the sentence as a whole.

Absolutely agree. It's probably the biggest disconnect I feel between how ideas are structured in my head and how to best communicate them in written format.

Parentheticals in English sit in this sort of midpoint between a modifying clause for necessary elaboration and a footnote/end-note for optional detail, and lots of people including me use parentheses where "inlining" the parentheses or moving them to a footnote would be more appropriate. That's in addition to conventional uses of parentheses, like to expand abbreviations.

Is "vary bad" a clever pun, or just an amusing typo?

Absolutely. My comment is only about whether or not the second period is logically redundant.

What benefit does the reader draw from being informed “this quoted phrase is a complete sentence”?

It’s not futile to reconsider conventions, no matter that demands may go ignored.

Floatingatoll said "It's not futile to reconsider conventions". This shows that's not a complete sentence, suggesting that you added a caveat or other clause.

Also, your preceding paragraph highlights another issue: what if the sentence being quoted has different punctuation than the sentence it's placed in? You wrote a sentence that should end in a question mark, but the quote should end with a period.

So, when a quoted sentence fragment terminates a sentence, the period should be outside?

> Blah blah "Quoted sentence in entirety."


> Blah blah "Quoted sentence fragment".

Exactly, that's the rule in British style. In American style, the period goes inside in both cases.

Good illustration, but also brings into scope the [sadly disappearing?] ethical requirement of not misleading with abbreviated or out-of-context quotations.

> Without turning the page, there would be no way of knowing whether the quoting sentence is complete.

and he said: "Mary, let's go

--- page ---


Supposing the sentence weren't complete on the first page but the quoted one were, is this what you would expect to see?

"...and also look ugly.",

In that case, the convention of placing just a comma inside the quotation marks if the quoted sentence were complete but the quoting sentence were not seems much cleaner.

Yes that's exactly what I'd expect to see.

    He said "I came in with the tide.", but she wasn't listening.
(which is correct according to my expensive British education) is very preferable to

    He said "I came in with the tide.," but she wasn't listening.
which has a full stop and comma next to each other and looks hideous.

However, I do personally think the full stop inside the quotes is redundant and would remove it, unless it made a real difference to the sentence meaning.

> I don't see why it is redundant

Can you construct a pair of sentences where the potential ambiguity would be meaningful and not trivially resolved with context?

Isn’t it a rule that if you quote a complete sentence it must end the quoting sentence?

If a quote is incomplete and a meaningful part is omitted there are other typographical conventions to indicate that, like a double period .. for example

>If a quote is incomplete and a meaningful part is omitted there are other typographical conventions to indicate that, like a double period .. for example

Yes, but what I'm talking about is the reverse situation. How would you know whether or not the quoting (outer) sentence is complete? You cannot logically infer that from the quoted (inner) sentence, which is why I'm saying that the second period is not redudant.

you would assume its complete in the absence of a double period. For instance, he said "some random shit". The quote in the previous sentence is a complete one. But then he said " some other ..". An incomplete quote. I personally think we should include the full stop though as it conveys more information and is less cognitive overhead, "it's obviously not redundant.". Even considering that we tend to treat punctuation as breaking/pausing I still think its appropriate as the quote ended AND its containing sentence.

>you would assume its complete in the absence of a double period

That is true for the inner sentence, but again, I'm talking about the outer sentence. It needs its own terminator to make it unambiguously clear that it is complete.

I've never seen a double period used to mean anything. An ellipsis is a specific mark made by three periods. Or is this a Britishism?

It’s not used for anything. I can’t imagine where anyone got the idea that it is.

Terminating the quoted sentence with a period is redundant, since the closing quotation mark also terminates it.

No, because a quote can contain a sub-sentence. The period adds meaning to the sentence by adding finality.

"You are going" has a very different meaning from "You are going.", because the first implies there is something `you` are going to do. Whilst the second implies you are being ordered to leave.

In that case, not capitalizing the word immediately following the quote will work as an indicator that the period is not part of the parent. This doesn't work in the case that the word following is a proper noun. But that's an edge case on something that doesn't really matter.

I agree that maintaining punctuation of the quote is important for context. But outside of the quote, it practically never matters if there is a period or not after the quote. The reader may choose.

> He looks up, "This is it." Bob says, gazing at the sky.

I agree with that, assuming there would be some indication if the quoted sentence wasn't complete.

I'm just saying that the outer/quoting sentence needs its own punctuation regardless of what's going on in between those quotation marks.

Then you have no signifier for whether the quote is partial or not. Did you quote part of something someone said or the full sentence?

So would you suggest that it would make sense to never have punctuation before a quotation mark?

Only when necessary.

E.g.: '«Are you joking?!», he said. The other replied, «I'm not joking at all». They went on'.

Punctuation has a braking effect on the reader.

, ; : .

If you're at a full stop, the second . feels superfluous.

Then again, ellipsis marks are also a thing.

Did you really say, "I tend to agree with the author?"

See the problem there? The quoted sentence is not a question, but the outer sentence is; why, then, is the question mark inside the quotation marks? Double punctuation would solve that ambiguity, and would not be redundant.

Alternatively, and I'm not sure which is correct, if the question mark is outside the quotation marks, was the quote a complete sentence?

The question mark is supposed to go outside the quote if it is not part of the quote, FYI. Same with exclamation points. Internalizing only happens with periods and commas.

That's what it looked like to me, too, but isn't it telling that we can't treat punctuation consistently?

We can treat it consistently, it just takes a full book-length style guide to do so. Exceptions of exceptions are a frustrating form of consistency, but they are consistent nevertheless.

In any colloquial sense, the existence of exceptions means there is inconsistency.

Also awkward:

Did you ask, "Is this your dog?"?

To me, seeing that punctuation is soothing. It's finding another person who I know thinks the same way I do, if only about this one, pedantic thing.

I do wonder if that kind of thing is awkward just because we're not used to it...

What would be the proper punctuation if you rearranged the sentence slightly?

Dr Johnson kicked a large rock and said, “I refute it thus.”, as his foot rebounded.

Is the period redundant? Or the comma after it? None of them? This looks almost as ugly as two periods.

The period before the quotation mark is redundant, because the quotation mark implies it (in this case).

To me it looks wrong to omit a period in a famous short one-sentence statement. To stay within American style, I would rearrange the sentence to end with the quote, "I refute it thus."

I like the 'more logical still' style.

The structure of the whole looks incomplete and unbalanced without the second full-stop, which I find ugly. I guess that I care more about logical structure (or my idea of logical structure), than typographical utility.

For simplicity, every sentence should end with a full stop (period). Thus:

    How are you today?.

    This is important!.
Which clearly demonstrates that ! and ? can appear in the middle of a sentence, just as ; and , can:

   I want to call to your attention this very important!! point: always checks the return value of your system calls.
I do draw the line at introducing scoping operators though it would simplify the grammar.

The dot below ? and ! is the full stop.

Thus implying the existence of non-dotted versions for mid-sentence usage.

Good point -- I shoulda known as IPv8 addresses use ., !, and ? to separate address parts when using "dotted" notation.

> Thus implying the existence of non-dotted versions for mid-sentence usage.

Or would they have commas as is used when the : is degrades into the less definitive ;?

Do you mean, like this: ““I refute it thus.”, he said.”? It does get ugly.

Once we're accepting that appearance is part of our decision, the American one has just as much appeal as the British one.

Redundant and ugly are very subjective qualities in this case.

You mean, "typograhicl redunat".

> Dr Johnson kicked a large rock and said, as his foot rebounded, “I refute it thus.”.

Well, I don't really like that: it just doesn't look nice to me. I would suggest one of the following:

Dr Johnson kicked a large rock and said, as his foot rebounded, “I refute it thus”.

You've chosen not to quote the full stop. There's no law that says you have to include everything in the quotation, right?

Dr Johnson kicked a large rock and said, as his foot rebounded: “I refute it thus.”

This also works if the quoted sentence ends with a question or exclamation mark.

It's a shame that punctuation of human languages can't be logical, but it seems that we're stuck with inconsistent requirements and messy compromises. Cases like the following really confuse and annoy me:

“On the other hand[,]”[,] she said, “we could wait till dark[.]”[.]

(Should that depend on whether the original spoken sentence would, if written, contain a comma after "hand"?)

But what would you do if Dr Johnson was surprised, and you yourself were shouting, i.e.:

Dr Johnson kicked a large rock and said, as his foot rebounded: “I refute it thus?”!

AFAICS, the only way to render this faithfully is the way I just did. In other words, you really do need the punctuation both of the outer sentence and the inner sentence. By extension, the only logical approach for the original sentence would be:

Dr Johnson kicked a large rock and said, as his foot rebounded: “I refute it thus.”.

On a different note, might I use this moment to complain about American books not closing quotations, if they continue on onto a new paragraph, and then opening them again? I.e.:

John said: "I have two things to say.

"One of these things is this.

"The other thing is this."

The quotation thing is irritating if you treat them like matched parentheses, but if you allow the opening and closing quotes to have different meanings, there is a logical interpretation. The opening quote is required syntax for the beginning of any quoted paragraph, so that the reader is reminded that we're still in an extended quote. The closing quote means "this person is finished speaking, and the next quote may be assumed to be a different person." The advantage is the streamlining of longer exchanges:

John spoke to Paul. John said: "I have two things to say.

"One of the things is this."

"What's the other?"

"The other thing is this."

Even in the purest programming languages, we're happy to design special-case idioms that sacrifice perfect orthogonality for better human factors, provided there's an unambiguous parse. Scheme provides (define <identifier> <expression>) - utterly elementary. Yet defining functions by binding identifiers to anonymous lambdas is so annoying that an unneccesary and inconsistent second syntax is provided, (define (<identifier <args...>) <expression>).

Eh? Standard American and British usage is the same with regard to quotes that span multiple paragraphs. Given that it's understood that speakers can alternate without each quote being attributed, e.g.:

Bob said: "Any opinion on this, John?"

John said: "I have two things to say."

"What are they?"

"One of these things is this.

"The other thing is this."

– how would you punctuate that? If you close each paragraph with a quote, then there's no way to tell who's speaking except to label each paragraph:

Bob said: "Any opinion on this, John?"

John said: "I have two things to say."

Bob asked: "What are they?"

John answered: "One of these things is this."

John continued: "The other thing is this."

And if you don't open each quoted paragraph with a quote, it's very hard to tell which paragraphs are quoted:

John said: "I have two things to say.

One of these things is this.

The other thing is this."

The third thing, he kept to himself.

And what about when the quoted text is two sentences? Do we write a full stop for the first sentence, but not the second?

> There's no law that says you have to include everything in the quotation, right?

Oh, if only languages worked so consistently.

Then again, in programming things don't always nest either, since sub shell calls have all sorts of oddities in regards to escape sequences.

Has there ever been a case of anything nesting nicely, be it in languages, programming, or any other medium of writing? Maybe XML? I'm not sure.

I guess that's what XML namespaces were supposed to allow.

Reality seemed to involve eldritch abominations like one system I encountered that had entire Base64 encoded XML documents embedded as attribute values in a higher level document and then this approach applied recursively....

Edit: Of course, this wasn't XMLs fault - but for some reason a lot of XML used in the "enterprise" world seemed to be primarily designed to eat the soul of whoever gazed upon it.

> Has there ever been a case of anything nesting nicely, be it in languages, programming, or any other medium of writing? Maybe XML? I'm not sure.


Not quite, in practice you still occasionally stumble upon situations like these: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/51974631/how-do-i-proper...

Or this: https://github.com/spaceghoul/json_deep_parse#example-usage-...

I see what you mean, but the first appears to be a PHP bug (unless I am misreading?).

The second, appears to be a tool for parsing a json blob which has been escaped and encoded as a simple string inside another json blob. That's certainly an interesting problem, and one that is likely to come up in a sufficiently complicated world - however it's not an issue with parsing JSON. It's an issue with parsing /any/ data structure or language that may contain strings and as such seems unavoidable.

> It's an issue with parsing /any/ data structure or language that may contain strings and as such seems unavoidable.

Except for a data format which would allow embedding data in a nested fashion without altering it in any way. For example:

  some_object_field: "some value"
      and_sub_fields: "with values"
        embedded_as_strings: "without transforming the structure"
        which_both: "JSON and XML"
        have_somewhat: "failed to do"
      #""" control sequences should also be valid in the body, as long as there is proper indentation, a la Python
      # which could then be simply stripped for display, for example, based on the first """ having N indentation
      # then it would follow that the rest of the data entries have N+TAB_WIDTH, which could be simply stripped
      # also, processing the beginning of every line would be less expensive than iterating through the entire line in search of escaped \n or anything of the sort
Multi-line strings in JSON are also an embarrassment: https://stackoverflow.com/a/2392888

As a consequence, the amount of parsing and processing that you need to do is really bad for performance. Of course, there are formats like YAML and TOML that go in the opposite direction - they try to cover all use cases and end up being overcomplicated.

There are occasionally other attempts like JSON5 to improve things: https://json5.org/

However those also oftentimes are not very popular, because there is just too much ecosystem that has been built around the older formats, like XML, JSON and even YAML.

Typographically, the first comma is redundant, as it's implied in the break;

"On the other hand", she said, "we could wait 'til dark".

> Well, I don't really like that: it just doesn't look nice to me.

Well, I don't really like that; it just doesn't look nice to me.

> It’s a shame that the punctuation of human languages can’t be logical.

    s/the punctuation of //

Lojban is a human language, even if it is not a natural language.

Lojban also hasn’t shown that it would retain its principles after years of broad day-to-day usage. And I dare speculate that it would not.

I strongly agree.

While we're on the topic, all the journals I'm familiar with require punctuation like full stops (aka periods) to be included in displaystyle maths expressions. There is a some logical justification for this, but it looks awful, and can be downright confusing depending on the sort of notation employed. It particularly irks me to see a spare comma tagged on to the end of a tensor calculus expression, that's supposed to be understood in the context of the surrounding prose, rather than the adjecant mathematical expression.

This is what I do as well. The article says it's "redundant and ugly" but I don't think it's redundant at all--it's unambiguous that "I refute it thus." is a full sentence quote that happens to come at the end of a sentence. It's consistent and simple, as opposed to a special rule that says you can elide the outer `.` if (1) the quote ends in a `.` and (2) the quote is the final element of a sentence.

Whenever I ask my English teacher wife about this sort of thing she reminds me that punctuation is rhetorical.

If it's important to the writer that what is quoted be identified as a sentence then I agree with you, and I'm going to start using that construction in my writing.

But when it comes to quoting words people say, is often good enough to just quote the words.

When you store a command in a string, to you include the trailing newline? I usually don't, but it'll always depend on the use case.

I feel the period inside quotes is redundant. The last quotation mark can signal both: end of quote and end of sentence within the quote. Though it gets complicated when there are multiple sentences within the quote.

> Dr Johnson kicked a large rock and said, as his foot rebounded, “I refute it thus. I refute it thus”.

This looks "unbalanced" to me.

.". does look rather like a hairy Kilroy


I bet we'll see a "hairy Kilroy" operator in the next Haskell library for meromorphic lens co-combinators.

Unfortunately, the quotation mark is not a valid operator character.

Same. It is like matching brackets. Two sentence ends, one quoted and one quoting, so two full-stops. And like putting exclamation/question/interrobang/other marks in the right place depending on who is using them (quoter, quotee, or both).

Of course you can shorten your quote by one character and leave out the inner stop, and I'd say that was equally valid. I would tend to do that unless I want to make it absolutely clear that what I was quoting wasn't a run-on sentence that continued after that point.

Footnote from the article:

> More logical still would be to have two periods, one marking the end of the quoted sentence and the other the end of the top-level sentence. But that would be redundant and also look ugly.

I agree with you in principle, but aesthetics matter!

I would vote omit the punctuation from the original quote unless it adds something of particular value, which that period doesn’t seem to?

I wrote my whole master thesis as you describe. It was logical to me. Then my promotor complained that it's not correct so I had to go through whole 100+ pages to correct all the instances.

why? can't it be solved by a sed script with less than ten characters?

  /\."\./, /\."/

I also did the same for parenthesis, so would need to double the cases :)

  /\.([^\w])\./, /\.$1/

Just don't put a ended sentence at the end of something that is not yet a finished utterance.

It's always possible to make a full sentence quotation after a colon, possibly using indentation:

  With just enough of learning to misquote.
    — Lord Byron
This can be even more explicit:

  “One whom it is easier to hate, but still easier to quote.”
    — Alexander Pope
Or you can also opt for inner quotation lightly altering the typography, like “quotation is the highest compliment you can pay to an author”, which is actually an excerpt from the wider quotation:

  “Quotation is the highest compliment you can pay to an author. Perhaps the next highest is, when a writer of any kind is so considerable that you go to the labor and pains of endeavoring to refute him before the public, the very doing of which is an incidental admission of his talent and power.”
    — Anonymous

It sounds like we need a ligature that puts the quotation mark directly over the punctuation.

yep, I do mention this approach in a footnote, though it looks kinda awkward to me. maybe just because I’m not used to it. it’s definitely not necessary for reading aloud, where it’s enough to know that there’s a punctuation there. but when reading silently it does make more sense.

Exactly, both approaches in the article are wrong, and this is the only way to write the sentence correctly. Each sentence needs to end in a punctuation mark, regardless of whether it's between quotes or not.

> I think it’s weird that a punctuation mark inside a quote can end the sentence that contains the quote.

It doesn't. The end quote with a period inside it ends the sentence.

> I’d argue like this: in the above case there are two sentences

There aren't. English doesn't nest or overlap sentences. Ever. Therr are plenty of ways in which English combines multiple units which each could otherwise be their own sentences into more complex sentences, but none of them involve having something which remains a sentence inside a longer sentence.

Not even parenthetical remarks with opening and closing parentheses or mdashes?

I won't say it isn't so (that would be redundant), but this example makes my point again.

> The end quote with a period inside it ends the sentence.

What a weird interpretation. Two characters shouldn't be needed to end a sentence, only a period can end a sentence. It'd be a lot easier to postulate the period inside ends the sentence and the quotation mark ends the quote that just ran outside the end of the sentence by one character.

Hmm. This feels a bit wrong to me. Double period makes longer pause, and wedged between a quote it doesn’t flow well:

.”. Feels like a visual stutter.

Either .” or “. are more final and visually stable.

I’d argue depending on whether the pause affected by the period is important to the quote itself, put it in the quote. Then again, a block-quotation is probably more suitable for that scenario. Personally, for basic quotes in prose I’d put the period on the outside of quote because that directs readers to pause after the quote ends, not before.

If it's like coding styles, almost anything to do with style is a matter of how much you're used to it. If .”. was the norm you might not find it so stylistically wrong.

But .” is always syntactically wrong when then quoted text didn't have a full stop in it, and ”. is ambiguous about whether it's a complete sentence or not.

Yes, that's better and more logical, because it also handles the case where the final punctuation of the outer sentence and quoted sentence is different, like when Dr. Johnson asked "I refute it thus?"!

Technically, "I refute it thus" and "I refute it thus." are both valid quotations of a source that contains, in its entirety, "I refute it thus."

Is "rig" a valid quotation of "dirigibility"?

Is "go there" a valid quotation of "never go there"?

As a programmer surely the concept of syntactic sugar is not unfamiliar to you.

I like the consistency of always having my punctuation inside quotes if a quote is there.

Having to make the extra decision on whether the punctuation should be in, or outside the quote is too much to think about.


This looks completely bizarre to me. I hope this never becomes a standard.

How is the period in the quoted section relevant to the reader, in light of the close quote character terminating the sentence and quote both?

Someone I know made a font modified so that the quotation mark goes directly over the period, which is a better way to combine the two.

I logged in to write that it should be like this. Until the world changes, I use the British approach unless someone complains too much.

This is how I always do it.

I don't care what other people think, this is the only thing that makes sense if you ask me.

Finally someone who agrees with me. Don’t want the double punctuation? Write a simpler sentence.

That's how I already write messages. People can complain if they like.

Same here. This is the way.

She asked, “Did you find this on Yahoo!?”.

think of it as a self-closing element. Like <br/> became <br>.

No, because you will still need to apply a special case to stop the recursion of putting a period after a period forever. If a sentence ends in a period then what ends the expression that contains the sentence and the period? Answer: another period because you can think of that expression as a sentence too. So you need a special case that says if there are going to be two periods next to each other then terminate the recursion. Similarly your .". asinine suggestion fails since it implicitly invokes a special rule, but is worse than the elegant special rule of just having one period.

This rubs me wrong in all the ways and is aesthetically jarring as all hell to me.

If I’m reading a book or essay and I come across this type of punctuation, it actually actively removes me from my flow of reading and causes me to stop for a moment and lose immersion - same with obvious spelling and grammatical errors.

It’s amazing how dependent our reading immersion is on proper grammar, spelling and punctuation.

> aesthetically

I prefer to think it is what you are accustomed to, or habituated to.

From these comments a number of people including me, prefer to use the .”. form because we find that more aesthetically pleasing. I had discovered the .”. form myself because I play with my punctuation (and words and grammar), and until this discussion I hadn’t noticed others use .”.*.

I presume other other programmers play with syntax and punctuation too.

* Note I have italicised .”. and if you zoom on an iPad the full stops [US periods] change from squares to rhombusы.

Yep, I agree and I do this too. Even in school I was willing to eat the docked points for doing it this way.


Strongly disagree. This is an abomination. Language and typography have to be elegant in addition to intelligible.

Besides, if you look at it upside down, you might be tempted to invoke Godwin's Law.

They don't have to be. They should be where-ever possible without affecting meaning or legibility.

Would you sacrifice clarity for elegance?

Good question! Perhaps one of the most important questions regarding writing...

I would argue clarity and elegance don't oppose one another; elegance means being as clear as possible without being clumsy or heavy handed, and without insulting your reader's intelligence. Said reader is not a machine, they're supposed to be fluent in the language.

We should reduce ambiguity as much as possible, but no more than that. Adding signs where no ambiguity remains only worsens the signal to noise ratio.

What clarity is sacrificed? Is it in doubt that the sentence ended?

The single period favours both elegance and clarity over slavish and unimaginative punctiliousness.

This always made more sence.

I used to love to write. That all ended in college, with English Instructors. I wasen't the only student either.

There was so much emphasis on grammar, interesting writers just seemed to sound all alike. I enjoyed some of the papers that were read aloud the first few weeks. By the end of the courses, the papers were technically correct, but boring, and lacked imagination. I could see the enthusiasm drain from the students faces with every paper covered in red Sharpie corrections.

I had one teacher that used to down grade me for not writing out numbers 1-10, and only using numbers for 11 on. I still don't know what's right, or care anymore.

(I believe S & W recommends writing out 1-10.)

I got in a heated debate about this with a technical writing instructor. Namely, I was ending a question with a quote along the lines of

> Why did Jake believe the AI was “going to kill us all”?

The instructor wanted me to put the question mark of the outer sentence within the quotation marks despite the quoted text not containing a question mark.

> Why did Jake believe the AI was “going to kill us all?”

I felt like doing so changed the meaning of the quote, and it felt like a misrepresentation. This being the “correct” way to do it has always irritated me.

I ended up rewording the sentence so it wouldn’t end with the quotation, and have just actively avoided ending sentences in quotes ever since.

Yes, this is the reason why, IMHO, the American way is objectively wrong.

Aesthetics is in the eye of the beholder, but a quotation style that enforces incorrect quotations is not good.

It seems wrong because it is.

> Question marks and exclamation points have their own rules.

> If they apply to the quoted material, they go within the quotation marks. If they apply to the whole sentence, they go outside it


I have seen things like:

> The password is ’%>>~|]#^|,’ which is awesome.

Which is, as far as I know, correct according to the rules.

I don't think the normal rules of grammar are designed to handle this case. I would probably write something like

> The password, which is awesome, is:

> %>>~|]#^|

This also has the benefit of putting the password on it's own line, which should make life easier for people actually consuming the document.

There's nothing I like more than typing a URL at the end of a sentence and getting the punctuation wrapped up in the URL. /s

It makes some sense if you consider it a representation of the way you'd speak/read the sentence. If you read that sentence out loud, regardless of where you put the question mark you'll have to intone the quote as if the quote was a question, due to its context. So it functions "better" as a reading hint. (Though I'd also prefer to have the punctuation outside the quote.)

Unlike periods and commas, putting question marks and exclamation marks inside the quotation when they are not part of the quote is against AP, APA, Chicago, and MLA style specifications... Granted, I don't know if technical writing typically adheres to some other style, but shoving a question mark inside a quote it isn't part of is definitely not typical of American styles in general.

Correct, but that just shows why the American style is so confusing. That we have to have an exception for more meaningful punctuation marks just serves to confuse, and emphasizes just how bad the default is.

I didn't even realize that periods were an exception. (as an American) I've always preserved the original quote for all three forms of punctuation, and put a sentence-ender only if there isn't one inside the quote. I'd bet most americans do the same, style guides be damned. IMO, it's also totally crazy to export a punctuation mark out of the quote always.

True, you really only have to worry about it if you're writing or editing for a teacher or publisher who wants you to adhere to some specific style. The real annoying thing for me (as an American) was having different teachers teach different things in school. (Same with double spaces between sentences in typing and the oxford comma.) At least when the teacher used a style guide, there was a source of consistency I could turn to, even if I disagreed with them.

This brings up a point related to the double-period/redundancy discussion above.

In a slight adjustment of this example, what if the text were a question and the quotation were a statement. Would this be a good construct: Why did Jake believe "the AI was going to kill us all."?

Similarly you could have a text statement with a quoted question: Jake asked "would the AI kill us all?".

Very good counter-argument to the non-sensical punctuation mark redundancy argument.

Also there are the possibilities for various questions and exclamations.

Why did Jake ask "Can I have another biscuit?"?

I was frightened when Jake shouted "Who are you?"!

My trousers were soiled when Jake shouted "Boo!"!

Why did I soil my trousers when Jake shouted "Boo!"?

I felt like doing so changed the meaning of the quote, and it felt like a misrepresentation... I ended up rewording the sentence so it wouldn’t end with the quotation, and have just actively avoided ending sentences in quotes ever since.

I appreciate the skill involved in avoiding ambiguity. The hard part is knowing the unknown unknowns, ya know? I read both sentences the same way and can't really fathom why someone else wouldn't! (Of course, I don't have the context of the original quote here, so maybe that comes into play... but I don't know, and probably shouldn't have to!)

I think you're right;

> Why did Jake believe the AI was "going to kill us all?"

This reads, to me, like Jake's quoted sentence was originally a question. If the original sentence was an assertion or a statement, then you're right this fundamentally changes the meaning and strength of Jake's sentence.

wow, your instructor is an idiot.

The real answer is to use the British style but then combine the " and . into a ligature in the font so that it looks nicer like the American style. Simple!

edit: Just searched and there are some people doing exactly this with negative kerning:



Wow, I can't believe how much I now realize I want this to be the default. This whole situation feels like the result of a lack of computers unable to automatically place these "ligatures" and I've never considered how we should've ditched this restriction years ago.

As I recall, this historically was the standard. In handwriting, the ligature could be and was placed naturally. In professional printing with moveable type, the ligature could be included in the typeset. Only once typewriters were invented and couldn't spare a key for every ligature did the sequential style appear and the British and American styles diverge.

This seems like it ought to be possible on a typewriter -- or at least, one with a true backspace. I'm not sure if the backspace was an advanced/late feature, though. It seems pretty simple, but mechanical parts are pretty fiddly I guess.

What ligature would you propose for "? or "!

There's no real ligature for those, but those characters don't really take up any unnecessary whitespace. Combining low and high punctuation marks makes more sense. You could try to turn "! into a well-kerned '!', with he quotation marks very close to the exclamation point, but for the question mark such a system would probably not work.

That said, perhaps there's something to be found in other languages. Some quote with «quote», some with “quote”, others with „quote“, and there's many other variations. I can see how ligatures can work with constructions such as ¿question? can have the quotation makes placed closer in the beginning of the question marks, especially with the slow change from the angled brackets to the English quotation marks in some Spanish speaking countries.

You don't need one for those. Even in the American style those are supposed to be placed inside or outside the quotations depending on whether the question/exclamation is part of the quote or not.

I like this solution way more than anything proposed here. It's how I'd write it by hand.

How does this work with longer punctuation like “?”, “!”, or “‽”?

I think, given that this is just some guy’s opinion (it’s not like this is someone who has a job as a professional copyeditor or publisher of a respected style guide), the only real takeaway most people should take from this is:

There are various conventions you can adopt around quoted punctuation

You, as an individual writer of English prose, have the option of adopting a style you prefer

It’s okay for reasonable people to disagree about that

Basically, all interpunction characters have started as "some guy's opinion".

All graphemes for the characters, too.

I know the "rules", but I've been also intentionally writing it in what I refer to as "functional style", e.g.:

""" Greg's reaction was "But what of the otters?!". Mary's "Nobody cares about otters!" was received with a stunned shock. Joseph calmly said "I'm ambivalent.". But Ophelia just "didn't care".

After hearing about the whole ordeal, Mary's brother was livid: "«Nobody cares about otters!»?! She's a bloody otterologist!"... and then he visibly shook, and his face blanked as he slowly collapsed into his armchair, looking broken, repeatingly mumbling to himself "Illogical... illogical...".


First three are verbatim restated statements; fourth is a partial and/or summary statement (no quoted punctuation); fifth is a very complex example (and a long [but fully functional!] sentence.

We also need light-, mid-, heavy-strength commas. :p

Another stupid detail like this that immediately tells you that text is from America is the capitalisation of every word in a title. Compare the front page of the NY Times with the front pages from any other English speaking country and you see the contrast. I didn't check, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Canadians go both ways at random ;-)

It's less logical even than that. It's almost every word. On the NYT homepage right now, for example, one story is "Justice Dept. Asks Judge to Block Texas From Enforcing Abortion Law". So "From" is capitalised but "to" isn't.

Weirdly, scrolling down the page, the technology section appears to go its own way on capitalisation rules: "Apple's new iPhone 13 is better, but not by much." is followed by "Apple Issues Emergency Updates to Close a Spyware Flaw".

4-letter-long and above prepositions are capitalized. Can't remember where I got that rule, but they're probably using that; I use it for my music collection.

> 4-letter-long and above prepositions are capitalized. Can't remember where I got that rule, but they're probably using that; I use it for my music collection.

This is the guide I follow, and it would only capitalize preposition five characters or longer:


It's called title case, and it's not determined by the length of a word but by whether or not a word is minor. The rules defining minor words vary slightly between styles, but they're usually prepositions and articles.

I learned it as all prepositions and articles, unless they start the title.

You and APA seem to disagree on this https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/capitaliza... but it's ultimately one of semantics since if your list of minor words are all three letters or less then it's the same.

> Lowercase only minor words that are three letters or fewer in a title or heading (except the first word in a title or subtitle or the first word after a colon, em dash, or end punctuation in a heading)

I'm surprised by this, as the Times has a fairly well-followed style book. I'd be curious if this pattern followed in print or if things are just more lax online.

edit: Having just compared, it does look like the content generated online has a looser pattern than the articles generated for this morning's paper.

Book titles in British English tend to be title case (capitalise most words, apart from "a", "the", etc), but newspaper headlines are usually sentence case apart from tabloid front pages, which are all caps and have their own language ("It's the Sun wot won it", for example).

A weird thing British papers do is de-capitalize acronyms. It's a useful signal for pronunciation, but it's also just...wrong? Like, the agency is called NASA, not Nasa.


The UK practise is for initialisms to be capiitalised and acronyms, which are prounced rather than spelled out, to have an initial capital (when rerfering to a proper noun) but lower-cased following.

So "Nasa", but "FBI".

There's some adoption of this in US English, though typically for words which have fallen into normal use and don't identify specific organisations or entities: scuba, radar, sonar, laser.

The UK style isn't uniform in all cases, particularly where initialism are pronouced with a mix of spelled-out letters and pronounced terms. So "HIV", but "Aids" (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/dec/01/through-posi...). I believe much US military usage falls under this pattern, as with USAMRID or USCENTCOM. In the latter case, The Guardian chooses the entirely consistent ... "USCentcom".

The same source gives us "GBU-43/B or Moab, known as the 'mother of all bombs'". https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/15/us-mother-of-a...


cOnsider tHe pOssible cOmpromises aVailable tO tHe eNterprising lAnguage sTylist!

I was typing out an explanation/justification to the effect that when speaking aloud, the punctuation at the end of the sentence is 'heard' in the last word, even if the word is quoted. We insert a pause before the start of the quote to indicate it was direct, but there isn't a way of indicating whether, say, a question mark belongs inside or outside the quotation.

But then I sounded out some examples in my head and realised it would be totally obvious. The inflection of the question is apparent from the beginning of the fragment (¿), not just from the inflection on the last word. I knew this already, of course, but I didn't really grok it, I guess because of the limitations of how we write out punctuation in English.

Also, aren't questions marked primarily by word order rather than intonation in English?

There are several kinds of questions.

The intonation that people think of as characterizing questions is actually specific to yes/no questions. It can be the only feature that marks the sentence as interrogative: "You know him?" is a valid sentence, and it is distinct from the indicative "You know him."

There are also what I think of as "question word" questions, and you might think of as "fill in the blank" questions: "Why are you here?"

These do not necessarily have the intonation that applies to yes/no questions. Like yes/no questions, they are characterized by subject-auxiliary inversion (the word order constraint you mention), and also like yes/no questions, that inversion is not guaranteed to be present in a question of this type: "Who sent you?"

(Note that inversion is possible for "You know him?" ("Do you know him?") and impossible for "Who sent you?"; these are different phenomena.)

I would argue that the yes/no question is primarily marked by intonation and the question-word question is primarily marked by the presence of a question word. Word order is affected in both cases, but not the primary indicator of what's going on. (Compare "He said what to the king?" - again, inversion is possible here ("What did he say to the king?"), but not required. In this case, the inverted version of the question is unmarked (normal), and the uninverted version suggests that the speaker wishes to place a special emphasis on something.)

Re. Intonation: I actually distinctly remember my first grade teacher having us practice a rising tone at the end of a “question sentence”. (US, 1980)

Also I remember being taught quite rigidly the “A,Eric an” style of quotation-punctuation relationship, and I naturally rejected it from the beginning as illogical.

Sentences of the form <some_statement>? with rising intonation are common and mean roughly <some_statement>, right? or <some_statement>, yes? There's no marker other than the intonation when spoken or the question mark when written to indicate that it's a question.

This is indeed annoying and illogical when learning english, especially because other languages get it right.

The french have a different speciality: punctuation marks that consist of two parts(i.e. ? ! ; :) are preceded by a space character. Also very irritating.

The space should be an "espace fine" (espace is feminine in that context), meaning a smaller space (En Space) than the normal space (Em Space).

The En Space is non-breakable, but the normal non-breakable space is Em in length, and therefore improper.

Note that em (current point size) and en (½ em) spaces are both wider than the regular space character (typically ¼ em). An espace fine insécable (narrow no-break space) is even smaller, usually as small as a Unicode thin space (⅕ or ⅙ em): https://jkorpela.fi/chars/spaces.html

Word, in French mode, inserts regular no-break spaces where narrow no-break spaces would be appropriate. I find this style rather irritating, but then again, I don’t read nearly enough French to get accustomed to it.

However, I do agree strongly with the late Jan Tschichold, who recommended thin spaces before question marks, exclamation marks, colons, and semicolons for other languages, too: https://www.courses.psu.edu/art/art101_jxm22/tschichold.html...

Ah, you're right, my translation of espace fine to En was incorrect, thanks for the correction.

An intriguing problem in typography is the patterns that spaces can form between words on different lines (called rivers); in traditional typography it is checked for but I don't know of any rendering engine that would do that automatically (in a browser, or on an e-reader for example).

I believe that both TeX (Knuth-Plass Line Breaking Algorithm) and InDesign (paragraph composer – expired US Patent 6,510,441) do this, so there is at least one open-source implementation that could be used as a starting point. Unfortunately though, the awareness for good and bad typography seems to be so low that this is probably not a priority for browser and e-reader vendors. It would be wonderful to have this as part of WeasyPrint or something similar.

TeX doesn't do this automatically, but is rare to see "rivers" in TeX produced publications due to the superiority of its paragraph building algorithm.

Hmmm, that's true: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Espace_fine_ins%C3%A9cable

However, LibreOffice inserts a non-breaking space U+00A0 instead :(

So the French don't break their spaces, they cut them.

Reminds me of https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sekat%C3%B6r

On the other hand, it was the English who used to have some extra space between sentences compared to the space between words. This is still the default in LaTeX, but I believe everyone turns it off by using the \frenchspacing command in the preamble.

Also German has its own verbs for "for the insertion of inappropriate spaces before a punctuation mark." and "for the insertion of inappropriate spaces after a punctuation mark."[1] which are often used in a derogatory manner in connection with people who do it wrongly.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plenken

That's typical of older English typography as well.

Here in a book of classics printed in 1910:


And in David Hume's Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects (1753):


> The french have a different speciality: punctuation marks that consist of two parts(i.e. ? ! ; :) are preceded by a space character.

Precision: a non-breaking space (unicode U+00A0) :)

LibreOffice or other word processing software automatically replace normal spaces by non-breaking spaces in that case.

But in text editors (like vim), we must do it manually (Ctrl+Shift+ua0 on Linux), typically when writing a French text in markdown, it's a bit irritating indeed.

This is usually configurable, e.g. Compose-Space-Space inserts a no-break space if the Compose key is set up, or AltGr+Space, Ctrl-Shift+Space etc.

(KDE has a dialog for customizing this under Settings→Input Devices→Keyboard→Advanced, where there are an impressive 16 possible options. It is just options to setxkbmap underneath.)

Not only is it irritating, it looks ugly as hell.

It doesn't look ugly at all if the space is of the correct length.

> There is no reason that there should be two different approaches to punctuation in the English language.

That's the typical answer a programmer would give. A linguist, or really any kind of sociologist, would rather say:

> There is no reason that there should be a single approach to punctuation in the English language.

I think the example sentence contains the worst corner-case of such a system. In general, the . at the end of sentence is the least necessary punctuation mark, and quotations of neutral statements should just always omit it.

For example, "this is how a neutral sentence should look like", I would say. I don't think "they saw a vase." looks good even in the middle of a sentence. However, "do I have a question?", or "I am exclaiming something!" do need their punctuation to make sense. Now, it's more ugly when you finish a neutral sentence a quote like "I am surprised!".

Of course, there will be cases, especially in literature, where the . will actually add something to the emphasis of a quote. For example, "I have said it all." could be used to emphasize the period itself - but in those cases, jarring punctuation like `.".` or `.",` would actually help to emphasize the importance of the period.

> For example, "I have said it all." could be used to emphasize the period itself - but in those cases, jarring punctuation like `.".` or `.",` would actually help to emphasize the importance of the period.

Even there, doing it like you did and putting the quoted sentence in the middle, not at the end, of the outer one looks about a gazillion times better

> In the American style, you almost always put periods and commas inside the quotation marks

American here. I never put periods in the quotes unless the text within the quotes is a full sentence. I also had no idea there was an American or British style regarding quotes.

American here. Placing punctuation in a quote ending a sentence is how English Composition was taught to me in grade school and in college. I took to Eng Comp early on and had at least one class in the subject from 9th grade in 1993 through my final year of college in 2003.

IMHO this is right up there with tabs vs spaces. People are going to have very different takes on what looks aesthetically pleasing based on viewing repetition and training. There is no right answer, since both are widely accepted, only personal preference.

FWIW, as another anecdatum from an American, I was always taught the "British style" was the correct way, and the "American style" was incorrect. They were never referred to as "British" or "American" though, just "correct" and "incorrect".

I prefer the "British" style, FWIW. Maybe it's just what I was taught, but I have encountered arguments for the other way periodically (causing me to have to check), and I always preferred the way I learned for the reasons in the article.

the "british" style also introduces an ambiguity. Did the original quote contain the puncutation, or does it derive from the outside context?

It's pretty clear to me that the correct method (on the grounds of respecting source material) is: "punctuation inside, if it comes from the source, punctuation outside if it's from the outside context".

And there are times when quotes aren't even direct quotes, they could be scare quotes. Why the hell would you ever put punctuation inside of a scare quote? I don't think any american would do this.


Dough is pronounced like "doe." -- TERRIBLE. Stab my eyes out.

Dough is pronounced like "doe". -- sensible.

I genuinely love how American, Australian, and British, English all differ in these subtle ways. I think another example that gets me is: `e.g.` vs `e.g.,` MS Word favours the `e.g.,` which I never see in Australian English.

There are so many small differences between English language flavours, it's fascinating.

Going off on a tangent, here's a random example...

The way brackets/parentheses are referred to in American English vs British English is different.

In the US:

() = parentheses

[] = brackets

{} = braces (or curly braces)

<> = angle brackets

In the UK:

() = brackets (or 'round brackets')

[] = square brackets

{} = curly brackets

<> = angle brackets (or angled brackets)

I prefer the UK version because it is simpler and feels logical. Plus, the word 'parentheses' is a mouthful :-)

I'm British and have worked in the US so I've used most if not all of these forms.

I'm not sure why the British one feels more logical to you, but I don't feel strongly drawn to either so probably it's more about familiarity.

> Plus, the word 'parentheses' is a mouthful :-)

There's a certain flow to the term "parenthetical" that I enjoy too! Alas I am entirely too parenthetic in my own writing and thus spend an annoying amount of time eliding the parentheticals :)

Surely {} = squiggly brackets ?

Logically, yes, but "curly brackets" is the only term I have ever heard used for these types of brackets. In Canada, which tends to use a lot of UK-isms.

When writing code by hand I literally just draw mirrored squiggles. (On inspection, only the first stroke at the top reliably indicates direction.)

I work with UK and US people regularly, and despite not being an official name this is the only name for those characters that everyone has automatically understood.

Huh, I'm from the UK and use the American versions. They American ones feel more logical to me. Probably all the programming books I read used the word 'parentheses' (:

{} are also referred to as handlebars, I've had a few American colleagues use that.

I'm going to be entirely honest, this seems like a complete waste of time for everyone involved. The point of writing is to communicate, and I don't see how the position of punctuation in relation to quotation marks affects the understanding of the communication to the reader. Just pick one and stick with it.

> There is no reason that there should be two different approaches to punctuation in the English language.

Why not? We have different vocabulary, different spelling. Our accents are sufficiently different that non-native speakers can't always understand both.

So serious question - why wouldn't punctuation also differ?

> There is no reason that there should be two different approaches to punctuation in the English language.

If you want to go that route, there's no reason for there to be more than one language on Earth.

Any attempt to research linguistics should respect the fact that people want to be different from each other, and see that as a valid reason.

I tried to implement some linting rules for quotation mark and punctuation once. Took me way too much time and effort. It's mostly trial and error but good enough I guess to highlight the most blatant abuses.

Anyway, here is the code: https://github.com/sindresorhus/awesome-lint/pull/101/files

US style is 'wrong' because it requires one to modify the original quote by adding punctuation within the quotes which delineate the quotation.

Eh, worrying much about this stuff is fairly pointless. It’s not like there’s a rules committee we can petition.

I do use the British style when I can get away with it, but for anything formal or important I just suck it up and do it the way it’s supposed to be done.

Anyway, if I could change rules of English, this wouldn’t be that high a priority.

Politics and the English Language[0] has this covered, though not directly referencing punctuation; "vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous".


If one is going to look to an authority in English, I think there's none better than Orwell. There are those of the opinion, however, that with regard to "outright barbary" the ship has long since sailed.

Hear, hear. An under appreciated long-form essay that I refer colleagues to frequently.

The reason this problem exists is because computers and font libraries don't have all the characters we need. The point or comma should be at the same place as the quotes, under them, not before or after.

And this is why more simply, the quotation mark can imply the period;

similarly, the comma can be inherited by the formulation and implied (there is no sacrifice in '«That's too bad», John said, «but you can recover»' for '«That's too bad, but you can recover»' - the break is in the formulation and the explicit comma is redundant).

And what of exclamation or question marks?

>at the same place as the quotes, under them


See po's comment providing SE links for doing it in tex: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28536834

Ah, yes. Exactly that.

OK, but why? Is this a convention?

It looks better and it saves space.

I'd argue the first is subjective (and I don't think it looks better personally). It's also different to how we use the same punctuation otherwise.

It does save space, but I'd say that's neither here nor there. It isn't like space for an extra period at the end of a sentence was ever at a premium.

At best, for a whole 200+ page book, you'd save a page or so.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact