Quotation Marks

Quotation Marks – You must punctuate dialogue in fiction and nonfiction (unless you are Cormac McCarthy). In American English, quotation marks fall outside of other punctuation marks. In British English, the reverse is true. If you are taking a college class in America, place closing quotation marks on the outside. Learn the rule:

  • “Write like this.”
  • Do not “write like this“.

Some students may prefer to write in British English, having learned English outside of the States. In British English, the opposite is true for the quotation mark rule. However, this rule is an important and location-dependent one; clarity of quotation is important.

Yes, in Britain, quotation is inverted, by our standards, or achieved via em dashes: —This would indicate the opening of a quote. But writing with the marks on the wrong side of the periods or quoting via dashes is simply unsightly and confusing in America.

This error, like the run-on, is often learned and deep-seated. I recommend practice, practice, practice, and hypnosis to remove the urge to close quotations incorrectly.

Correct examples in nonfiction:

  • “Mr. Niemeyer was among the last of a long line of Modernist true believers,” Curoussoff writes, understating the great Brazilian architect’s devotion to the positivist infusion of beauty into city planning (Curoussoff).
  • Picasso took claims to authenticity so unseriously that they became serious all over again: He stated that “only Picasso is talented enough to forge a Picasso!” in response to the news that several talented young painters had forged and sold works by him (Art Forum).
  • As the old chimney-sweeps’ saying goes, “Home is where the hearth is.”

Here is a random example of correctly punctuated dialogue in fiction:

He turned to the camera, saying, “It works like this. I start to speak, right?”

   ”Right,” his interlocutor said.

   ”And I have to keep speaking, because this is some sort of example, right? I get it.”

   ”You get it?” his interlocutor asked.

   ”Yeah, I get it,” he said, sighing. What a bummer! He mentally reminded himself to get a new job. This dialogue thing wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. A fly buzzed in difficult-to-predict ellipses around his head. He wondered if the fly heard him when spoke.

   ”You have to keep talking, right?” his interlocutor said.

   He sighed again, deeper, almost yawning. “Yeah,” he said. “But you know you, you should really just Google it…”

   ”Oh yeah…” his interlocutor said.

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