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Why the British Style of Punctuation around Quotation Marks Beats the American Style

Many times have I wondered why American punctuation has to be so illogical compared to our way to punctuate here in Finland, more accurately around quotations. Other differences in punctuation are just differences in grammatical punctuation rules, although English punctuation is much more intuitive that Finnish punctuation. I did some research and found out our Finnish way is pretty much the same as the British way to punctuate around quotes, also called the logical quotation, while the other one was indeed the “American style”. In that previous sentence I used the British style while an American would probably have written it like this:

The other one was indeed the “American style.”

Now you might ask why it is more logical that the period or full stop comes after the quotation mark. I tell you why. It is more logical to put the period outside the quote because it is not part of the quotation! Do you see, people? You should put stuff belonging in there only in the quotation. Most often in the American style, they don’t put only the quoted punctuation marks in the quote but also the marks separating the quote from the text around it. I’ll provide you with some example sentences.

I told him, “Man, the riff is a killer but the rest is a throwaway.” (Lordi – The Riff)

In both styles of punctuation, the period will be in the quote since it is part of the quotation! If the main clause is after the quotation, the punctuation differs between styles:

“Man, the riff is a killer but the rest is a throwaway”, I told him. (British)
“Man, the riff is a killer but the rest is a throwaway,” I told him. (American)

You see how the Americans put the comma that separates the quotation from the main clause. What I think is that it’s illogical to put it in the quote as it is not part of the quote but separates the quote from the main clause and therefore should not be in the quote.

Sorry to explain it in words of one syllable but I want to make sure everyone gets my point. In my opinion, you should only include the original quotation in the quote and leave other stuff out. Of course, if you have the main clause after the quotation, you’ll have to omit the period if it was there but that’s not a valid reason to replace it with a comma, is it?

Again, there is no real problem if the quote includes an exclamation mark (!) or a question mark (?) since they always belong in the quote and therefore are put inside. Even in the American style, you should always exclude a semicolon (;), gods only know why.

The American way is in a way simpler, as you don’t have to use your brain. The only thing you are required to do is to put everything inside the quotation. That’s it. All the punctuation marks just go inside. This is not the more logical way but the easier-to-remember way. I have never actually liked this kind of stuff that Americans do to English, make it simpler and at the same time more illogical because they can. No offence, Americans! It’s just natural that languages change when spoken. Personally I just think I’d like to be rational rather than make things “easier”. In my case, it’s not actually easier to put the fucking comma inside the quotation as it makes my head hurt.

Conclusion: it’s all about logic. I’m very much into logic so… it’s nice to be, say, logical. Of course, this is just my opinion. You can still punctuate however you like. Logically or illogically. :3

PS. In Finnish, we separate the main clause with a colon (:) if the quotation comes afterwards.

I told him: “Man, the riff is a killer but the rest is a throwaway.”

I understand the logic of using comma there, as it is more symmetrical to the case where the main clause comes after the quotation, but still, I think it’s reasonable to use colon too since that’s what colons are for: they are for this sort of use. In a way, quotes are the same. If you know what I mean. If you don’t, then whatsoever. There is no counterpart for colon to be used when the main clause comes after the quotation so that’s one reason to use comma.

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Anonymous said...

I prefer the British style, the American style sounds illogical to me. ;)

Anonymous said...

I, an American, personally like the British style (of punctuation placement—I will always use double quotes for non-nested quotations), with one exception: If it is a quotation that would by itself end with a period, I will substitute it with a comma (if I'm not adhering to some established style guide, of course). So I use:

> Someone stole my print-out of "The Gift of the Magi".


> "I would like to put some extra holes in whoever tore a hole in my couch and shoved my desk lamp into it," Pietrov said.

Basically, I annoy everybody.

A Nonny Mouse said...

I'm going to do a Compliment Sandwich, do you have those in Finland? It's like a knuckle sandwich but it has no punch and it actually is a metaphor, not just a joke name.

First, I want to thank you for this line, it brightened my Wednesday, the 14th of April:

"The American way is in a way simpler, as you don’t have to use your brain."

Here is my constructive criticism, call it a point of information:

I am an American, or a person from the US, to be more specific. I went to school exclusively in this country. I have a strong tendency to use "logical quotes", and I was doing this at least sometimes as early as high school. I am not sure if I didn't really care or if it was forbidden by some teachers, but I didn't always use logical quotes.

Fields that value precision and accuracy often use logical quotes, even in the US. The metric system could be described similarly.

And here is the bottom piece of bread for your compliment sandwich:

I also like to introduce quotes with a colon: "Just like you".

But that depends on context. Using a colon places substantially more emphasis on the quote, in my opinion. Sometimes you want that. Other times, you are trying to explain how to pack a chromatography column according to John Doe, interspersing your own commentary with direct quotes, and you don't want to have a billion colons. This is not a Python dictionary. This is chromatography. Different style guides must be used.

Why isn't Finland in NATO?

- A Nonny Mouse (my webpage should be X inactivation, not just Wikipedia in general)

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