Huh?

Excitingly enough, this little weekly column will be popping up to clarify a point of English--the nastier the concept, the better--to make everyone you know believe you're the super-whiz of the office, classroom, or home area around the kitchen table. You'll be seen as an intellectual hero, a giant of brilliant mental power--and that's not a bad reputation to have with your boss, your teacher, or the offspring hanging out around the 'fridge.

 

What?

Today's heroic factoid involves the placement of various punctuation items when using quotation marks. In today's world, whenever you find these in print, they're almost always wrong. Here's the lowdown to make you sparkle:

1. When using a comma near quotation marks, that comma always, no exceptions, goes in front of the quotation marks.
Example: We are going to the chocolate "pigout," and we plan to feast on Hershey's Kisses.
When you see this as an error, it will look like this: We are going to the chocolate "pigout", and we will sample Snickers bars.

2. When using a period near quotations marks, that period also always, no exceptions, goes in front of the quotation marks.
Example: We expect to see our friends from acupuncture class at the "pigout."
As an error: We believe all owl-enthusiasts will avoid that famous "pigout".

3. A semicolon always, no exceptions, goes after quotation marks.
Example: Eighteen ants carried off the fudge at the "pigout"; Molly wept tremendous tears.

4. When using a question mark with quotation marks, you have a choice to make:
a) Question marks go in front if the whole thing being quoted is a question.
Example: (as dialogue in a novel, for instance): Angela asked, "Does Flora find chocolate bonbons chewy?"
b) Question marks go after quotation marks if the sentence itself is a question but the word being quoted is not. Say what?
Example: Do we think all JAYHAWKS love chocolate enough to attend the "pigout"?

(Note: The incorrect form "pigout?" is saying the word "pigout" is a question--which it isn't.)

 

Self-test

Here are a few sentences to secretly test how successfully you've inserted this factoid. Answers and encouragement appear at www.KathyAlba.com (When you get there, click on "Factoidinsertionemia").

1. Where does the comma go? Wind-blown mushrooms feel "ditsy __"__ and tomatoes glow.

2. Period: Boris brought burritoes to the holiday "bash __"__

3. Question mark: Miguel wandered to the window, thinking, "Are my socks too plaid __"__

4. Question mark: Do you feel like a "brainiac __"__

5. Period: Most heart-throbs like cranberries only when they're "smushed __"__

6. Question mark: Did Nostradamas predict frozen yogurt "snarfing __"__

7. Comma: When men call women "chicks __"__ most chicks don't cackle.

8. Question mark: "This quiz is dopey, but how did you do__"__

 

Factoid Answers

1. Wind blown mushrooms feel "ditsy," and tomatoes glow.

2. Boris brought burritoes to the holiday "bash."

3. Miguel wandered to the window, thinking, "Are my socks too plaid?"

4. Do you feel like a "brainiac"?

5. Most heart-throbs like cranberries only when they're "smushed."

6. Did Nostradamas predict frozen yogurt "snarfing"?

7. When men call women "chicks," most chicks don't cackle.

8. "This quiz is dopey, but how did you do?"

 


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Kathy Alba, Ph.D. is author of Speaking and Writing Well: Empowering Yourself with "Proper" English, Your Dynamite Guide to Conquering the World.