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William B. Bradshaw

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National Punctuation Day: Answering the Question, "Does it Go Here or There?"

Posted: 09/23/2012 8:40 pm

Today is National Punctuation Day, a celebration of the little-known or forgotten information about those tiny dots, curves, and symbols that add so much character to our language.

I thought I would contribute to National Punctuation Day by shedding light on some uses of punctuation placement that will help keep your grammar skills sharp in this age of texting and email.

I discuss these issues--and many more--in my book The Big Ten of Grammar, which grammar enthusiasts will be happy to know is currently available free on the Kindle.


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  • Commas and periods

    Commas or periods always precede closing quotation marks of quoted material. In the United States, there are absolutely no exceptions to this rule. See the following examples. <blockquote>In this city you will find some “Republicans,” some “Democrats,” and some “Independents.” There are no “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts” about it. He said “yes,” but she said “no.” </blockquote>

  • Colons and semi colons

    Colons and semicolons always follow closing quotation marks of quoted material. Again, there are no exceptions. Here are some examples. <blockquote>Some people call themselves “Republicans”; some people call themselves “Democrats”; and some call themselves “Independents.” Sometimes she said “yes”; sometimes she said “no”; and other times she said “maybe.” Take, for example, the song “America”; it is also called “My country, ’Tis of Thee.”</blockquote>

  • Question marks and quotation marks

    If a question mark belongs to the material being quoted, it goes before the quotation marks. If the question belongs to the entire sentence, it goes after the quotation marks. <blockquote>She said, “How many people are here?” (The entire sentence is not a question; only the quote is a question. The question mark must be inside the quotation marks.) Did you say, “How many people are here”? (Unlike the previous example, the entire sentence is a question, so the question mark goes after the quotation marks.) Did he say, “I don’t need no help with my grammar”? (Entire sentence is a question.) </blockquote>

  • Exclamation points and quotation marks

    If an exclamation point belongs to the material being quoted, it goes before the quotation marks. If the exclamation point belongs to the entire sentence, it goes after the quotation marks. <blockquote>When she saw the new house, she said, “Wow!” (Only the quote is exclamatory, so the exclamation point must be inside the quotation marks.) That house is a “Wow”! (The entire sentence is exclamatory; the exclamation point goes at the end of the sentence—after the quotation marks.) She screamed, “Stop the car!” (Only the quote is exclamatory; exclamation point must stay inside the quotation marks.)</blockquote>

  • Commas and dates

    With the month-day-year style of dates, commonly used in the United States, a comma should be placed both before and after the year. See the following examples. <blockquote>The new train service will start on October 1, 2012, and will continue as long as the demand justifies the cost. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, near Hodgenville, Kentucky.</blockquote> The mistake most frequently made is omitting the comma after the year. Commas must be included before and after the year when using the month-day-year format. However, if only the month and the year or only the month and the day are used, no commas are used. <blockquote>The new train service will start on October 1 and will continue as long as the demand justifies the cost. Abraham Lincoln was born in February 1809 near Hodgenville, Kentucky.</blockquote>

  • Commas and state names

    When using the name of a town or city with the name of a state, a comma is used both before and after the state. <blockquote>New train service between Chicago, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri, is scheduled to begin on October 1, 2012. Abraham Lincoln was born near Hodgenville, Kentucky, on February 12, 1809. John Doe was born in Flint, Michigan, but later moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he lived the rest of his life. The graduation dance in Portland, Oregon, is to be the night before graduation.</blockquote> The mistake most frequently made is omitting the comma after the state. Commas must be included before and after the state.

Correction: In the slide about exclamation points, the word "explanatory" was used instead of the word "exclamatory." The correction has now been made.

 
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