Tag Archives: punctuation

Raging against the grammar machine

I’ve been getting lots of “S”-figured markings in my papers this semester, and probably throughout my seminary career. They always indicate that I should switch the order of a quotation mark and another point of punctuation. The rule is that generally punctuation at the end of a quote is placed inside the quotation mark. Here is Turabian’s more nuanced rule:

In American usage, a final comma or period always precedes a closing quotation mark, whether it is part of the quoted material or not (A Manual for Writers, 6th ed., 61).

I immediately run into trouble. I don’t like this rule and I refuse to follow it. There are some cases where I persist in thinking that a period or comma is better placed outside the closing quotation mark. Turabian goes on,

Question marks and exclamation points precede quotation marks if they pertain to the entire sentence of which the quotation is a part (A Manual for Writers, 6th ed., 61).

In my opinion, the same rule should apply to periods and commas, and that’s generally how I do it.

By the rules, I would write a made-up sentence from a Hebrew paper like this:

This is a better understanding of the word normally translated “peace.”

Why should such a short quotation get all the punctuational goodness? This is how I would actually write it:

This is a better understanding of the word normally translated “peace”.

Doesn’t this make more sense? Doesn’t it look better? My beef is essentially an aesthetic one. It’s a valuable element in the writing/reading experience. More than that, however, why should the rule be different for periods and commas?

Joel also pointed out that following the rule in lists results in back-to-back quotation marks.

…the words translated as “peace,” “judgment,” “righteousness,” and “justice.”

Here is how I would write it:

…the words translated as “peace”, “judgment”, “righteousness”, and “justice”.

My beef is an aesthetic one and it has mainly to do with quotations that contain only a few words. With longer quotations, I will generally follow the rule.

What do you think?