Tag Archives: punctuation

Quotation Marks – Basic Punctuation and Peculiarities Rules

When writing I am most often puzzled by punctuation rules. That is why, whenever I think of this blogging topic, #WriterlyWednesday, I turn my view towards punctuation. Today’s matter of discussion is quotation marks, a.k.a. inverted commas. The use of quotation marks in English is a tough topic for me, not only because it’s different in my language, but also by the complexity and variety of cases that are present.

First of all, let me say how indignant I am at the fact that there are two types of quotation marks – single and double, and, of course, British and American English go completely opposite each other in the way these are used. There are also two names for the same thing, and namely, you can either call them “quotation marks” or “inverted commas”. Such diversity is unnecessary, IMHO. Let’s move on, though.

In British English, you would use the single quotation marks. They are very hard to see and distinguish, partly because they look like the apostrophe, and this is a good reason for me to give up using them after years of poor attempts. You see, I naturally go with the British English version of everything, but typing ‘said he’ quickly gave way to “said he”. Did you see that? Visibility and certainty that these commas are in fact marking a quotation.

The Americans use the double marks for the same cases. Why then the other marks exist? Very simply, they are used when you need to put some quotation inside the main quotation. This is also the reason why our language doesn’t need a second pair of quotation marks – we don’t put dialogue in inverted commas, so if we want to use them in dialogue, we simply use the normal ones.

One of the huge puzzles for me personally is where to put the full stop – inside or outside the quotation marks. No wonder, that also depends on whether it’s British or American English. In the latter, the full stop (which is called “period”) goes inside the marks. I prefer the logic of the British writing style, however, where it depends on whether the ending punctuation mark of a sentence is an integral part of the quote. Thus, if it isn’t, it will stay outside. Here is an example:

I wonder what would be an appropriate use of the phrase “point blank”.

Do you think he’ll say it’s “long overdue”?

See what I mean by logical? This is the way I use quotation marks. Where I step away from American style is the type of the marks – I tried to use single, but this simply doesn’t work with me, so I turned to double and plan to stick to them.
Do you follow the British or American style? Which one seems more intuitive for you?

Writerly Wednesday: Punctuation

My mother tongue has very strict rules as to the use of comma, quite unlike the English language. They are so numerous that I often wonder at complicated cases if I should use one and where to position it. I have a deep respect to all colleagues who have graduated Bulgarian because they know what to do. All I know I have learned at school, and it’s just the basics. Moreover, I’m sure I have forgotten plenty of that over the years.

The moment I went to university to study English, I dived into happy ignorance and indifference as to the vague rules of using commas. A semester in, however, I started to resent this vagueness. After graduation, it upset me a lot, and I felt it could ruin my reputation of a language professional. Imagine, a student asks if she should use a comma in front of “if” or “when” and then, on top of that, also ask for an explanation. Imagine she would continue to explain the Bulgarian rule to me.
Most importantly, my ignorance threatened my writer’s life. I chose to write with no commas at all, for fear I might use some incorrectly. Have you noticed I haven’t even mentioned the semicolon? I’m not planning to involve that thing in this piece.

How I Got By?
I read carefully stories by other writers, always natives, and took mental notes how they use their commas. The terror, everybody was doing it their own way. That was awful, for sure, but in the same time, relaxing, as it was very likely that no one would notice I had no idea. Shooting in the dark is how I got by.

The time of MOOCs came, and I attended several very interesting ones in a variety of topics. I passed a course in history, called “The Matters of War and Peace”, for example, even though I’m not a fan of the science. I also took a course in Nutrition which was an eye-opener. I haven’t migrated to healthy eating, but I know a thing or two. General Philosophy, Chinese Humanities, Plato’s Dialogues, Fantasy and Sci-Fi in Literature…, you name it, but I shunned the Writing courses. Until one day I saw the Grammar 101: Punctuation, and I thought “That’s it”.

Needless to mention, all my classmates were graduate students. It didn’t matter as I had a goal. What I appreciated most about this course was the simplicity to which things were brought. How come no one had told me before that there WERE actual rules, and it was possible to follow them? Was it too simple to be true? Perhaps it was, but now I am at peace with my commas.

It’s time to start looking into the semicolon. That course DID say a lot on that topic, but who can learn so much in one time? I need to brace myself and shoot for another take of this MOOC, I suppose.
What’s your experience with the comma rules?