Tag Archives: rules for punctuation marks

Quotation Marks, Part 4: Quotes Within Quotes

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Sometimes you need to use both double and single quotation marks in one sentence. Remember, this is the American manner of punctuating. The British system is the opposite of ours: they use single quotes where we use doubles.

Here is an American example: Joginder stated, “My classics professor assigned the first 40 pages of ‘The Odyssey’ for our next meeting.”

Normally, you would put “The Odyssey” in double quotes, but because it is within a statement that needs double quotes, you use single quotes for the “inside” one.

Joginder may ask, “Did Seema really say, ‘Why would I date him after the rude comment he made to me?’ “

That is a quoted question within another quoted question. Both sets of quotation marks come at the end of the sentence. It’s important to leave a space between the single and double quotes. Singles always come inside doubles (in America).

You may quote me.

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An Apostrophe Dilemma Solved

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What do you write when two or more people possess the same thing? Do you use an apostrophe for each of their names or just one apostrophe?

“John and Serena’s car is a bright red.” By using the apostrophe only in Serena’s name, you are signaling that John and Serena both own that car. Use a possessive apostrophe only in the owner’s name closest to the item.

If each one of them owns a separate car, use possessive apostrophes for both owners: “John’s and Serena’s cars have adjacent parking spots in the office garage.”

 

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Too! Much! Emphasis!

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

So often I see writing in which the author capitalizes words that are merely common nouns, not proper nouns (the official names of people, places or things). Someone explained to me yesterday that he deliberately does this because those common nouns are special to him and he wants to call attention to them. People frequently use boldface and italics for the same reason. As if that isn’t enough, they pepper their prose with exclamation points.

Lewis Thomas, who has several books of fine and fascinating short essays, in a piece called “Notes on Punctuation” compares the epidemic of exclamation points to someone’s small child jumping up and down on the sofa in the middle of the living room, shouting, “Look at me! Look at me!”

Thomas’ point, and not of the exclamation variety, is that as writers we need to make our words provide the emphasis. Adding capitalization, boldface, italics and unnecessary punctuation only detracts from our message and annoys the reader. Annoyed readers will move on. You want to lure them in, not chase them away.

In Benjamin Franklin’s day, rules of writing had not been codified. Read his entertaining Autobiography and you will see Words randomly Capitalized. (Annoying, right? But do read it; it’s a wonderful book.) We cut him slack because anything went in his day. Now we try to be more subtle. Proofread your writing for errant capitalization, boldface, italics and exclamation points and then get rid of them. You’ll hold your readers’ interest.

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January 27, 2014 · 11:30 AM