More writers are putting commas, periods outside quotation marks

Slate.com
It’s been standard practice in the United States to place commas and periods inside of quotation marks, notes Ben Yagoda, “but in copy-editor-free zones — the Web and emails, student papers, business memos — with increasing frequency, commas and periods find themselves on the outside of quotation marks, looking in. A punctuation paradigm is shifting.” Yagoda, who teaches at the University of Delaware, writes:

The punctuation-outside trend jibes with my experience in the classroom, where, for the past several years, my students have found it irresistible, even after innumerable sardonic remarks from me that we are in Delaware, not Liverpool. As a result, I have recently instituted a one-point penalty on every assignment for infractions. The current semester is nearing its end, but I am still taking points away.

In a 2007 Poynter.org piece (“Hater-ation for the Hyphen Nation”), Roy Peter Clark said of the Brits:

I hate it the way they leave punctuation outside quotation marks. Periods and commas look so cold and lonely out there. I think they deserve to be brought inside, comforted and embraced.

Yagoda wrote earlier this year in “The Elements of Clunk”:

A whole new strain of bad writing has come to the fore, not only in student work but also on the Internet, that unparalleled source for assessing the state of the language.

Check out the discussion on Poynter Online’s Facebook page

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  • Susan Nunes

    The rule:

    Periods and commas go INSIDE the quotes.  (The ONLY exception is a reference citation.)
    Semicolons and colons go OUTSIDE the quotes.
    Question marks and exclamation marks go inside the quotes if they are part of the quotation; if not, they go outside the quotes.

    It’s not rocket science, people.  Do it correctly.

  • Susan Nunes

    Absolutely.  Any “teacher” not teaching this ought to be fired.

  • Susan Nunes

    Doing it the way the English do it is hideous.  Do it the right way in this country because if you don’t, you look like you are stupid and illiterate.

  • Susan Nunes

    It infuriates me when people put commas and periods outside the quotes.  Who in the heck TAUGHT people this incorrect convention?  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Terri-Johnson/31103753 Terri Johnson

    One of my pet peeves, but it is hard to get students to comply. I even find it in major media stories done incorrectly. Did you know what your web site for this is labeled? http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/romenesko/132326/its-now-ok-to-put-commas-and-periods-outside-of-quotation-marks/

    No—it is NOT now ok to put commas and periods outside of quotation marks! Hold to the standards!

  • http://twitter.com/CFMcG Clayton McGratty

    I completely agree with Yagoda.  We are charged with maintaining our discipline and proper punctuation is a substantially important part of it.

    Now if only we could get people to stop using “As per…” may I get some sleep at night. 

  • http://twitter.com/CFMcG Clayton McGratty

    I completely agree with Yagoda.  We are charged with maintaining our discipline and proper punctuation is a substantially important part of it.

    Now if only we could get people to stop using “As per…” may I get some sleep at night. 

  • Anonymous

    And where does the question mark have any part of this conversation?   

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    Yagoda calls the British style “logical punctuation,” but is it always? When a whole sentence is quoted, for example, isn’t it “logical” for the period to remain with it, inside the punctuation? I’m also not sure computers explain this trend; I’ve done a fair amount of programming in my time, and that requires delimiters like commas to stay outside the quotation marks, but I have no trouble transitioning to MLA style when it’s needed.

  • http://www.writingRX.tumblr.com Don Bates

    And quotes are only the beginning of a long list of infractions by today’s students, even among those who have studied AP Style. Some of the most obvious from my writing classes: 1) no comma after e.g. or i.e.; 2) e.g. and i.e. references followed redundantly by ”etc.”; 3) hyphens instead of dashes to separate parenthetical statements; 4) three-dot ellipses instead of three plus a period to end sentences containing excerpted material; 5) ellipses instead of dashes, brackets and parentheses to separate unexcerpted material; and 6) plural pronouns referring to singular antecedents (e.g., they for him/her). Most writing instructors want to focus exclusively on syntax and substance but are forced to spend countless dumb-down hours correcting punctuation and style issues that should have been mastered in high school. I blame a lot of these errors on the onset of email and blogging which have become the most forgiving forms on writing in the history of humankind. Kudos to Ben Yagoda for deducting points. I do this but not enough. I’m going to start doing more. If you can’t persuade, I guess you have to punish. 

  • Rich Jenkins

     I think it might also have something to do with the way English is taught in high school. I know my high school taught MLA citation, which uses in text parenthetical citation. The result was that the period would be put after the end of the citation and not inside the quotation mark. It seems like students would likely make the logical error that if you remove the citation, then the punctuation mark goes outside the quotation rather than inside.

  • Anonymous

    It doesn’t matter whether you think the law is stupid, Baylink, you can’t drive on the left side of the road. If you’re in America, you don’t get to choose –keep your commas and periods inside your closing quotation marks, where they belong.

  • http://leenoox.livejournal.com/ Baylink

    That would be great — if there were a rational reason for it: there’s not.  It’s solely to make typeset text look prettier.  See my other posting; Brits have always done it, as has Usenet for 30 years.  It’s not like it’s something new, Mike.

  • http://leenoox.livejournal.com/ Baylink

    British writers — and Internet writers going back to the early 80s (I know; I was there) — have always used this “rational” punctuation; putting it inside quotes only when it’s attached.

    Since it was originally invented because *it looks better in set type*, and we didn’t have to care about that, we did it the sane way.  Good to see The Real World is finally catching up.

  • Anonymous

     What about colons? As in:
    Yagoda wrote earlier this year in “The Elements of Clunk”:
    :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/globalwriter Mike Reilly Sr.

    No excuses”!” When a teacher is expected to pass along the standard, the job is to pass along the standard. Just do it. Keep penalizing — in fact, make it two points per infraction.
    Each of the many forms of English from Australian and Singaporean to so-called ‘International’ has its form and substance, which changes over time.But lets make it by informed review of common usage, not by accepting ignorance.

  • Anonymous

    My pet theory: As more and more students are taught programming languages alongside English classes, this practice will continue, because in programming languages everything inside quotes is a literal string. I know that is personally why it’s hard for me to remember to put the comma inside the quotes.