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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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August 13, 2008


Alison Harrison

As a expat Brit writing in American English, I really struggled with this rule about punctuation and quotation marks until someone told me the reason behind it. Apparently, when type was set manually in blocks into a frame, the smaller punctuation blocks were frequently knocked out of the print setters switched the order to keep them safe inside the quotation marks.
Even though I prefer the "logical" system followed in British English, this story makes me smile and reminds me how to punctuate correctly for my American clients!

Mike - Business Writing Courses

A fascinating question.

What I can say is , to me the period looks wrong with quotations inside, or out.

Just an opinion of what "looks right!"

There are copywriters who warn against using periods on conversion grounds.

"So I would not use this."

"And I would not use this".

Both look wrong.

"I would simply use this"

If forced into using a ! or a ?

"I would always enclose them with the text!"


Alison, your story made me smile too. It's wonderful. Thanks for sharing.


Hello, Mike. Thanks for weighing in. I do not recommend choosing punctuation based simply on what looks right. What looks right to one person will look wrong to another, particularly in different countries. I rely on accepted style guides.

I see from your email address that you are in the UK. Which style guides are most often followed there?


Lynn this is one of those grey areas in the UK, where three different people really would give three different answers.

Apart from which, the English are probably the worst to ask questions about English grammar.

Everyone speaks English better than we do!

I just asked a few people how they would punctuate the sentence:

Marie Antoinette said "Let them eat cake"

And the answers varied all the way from

Marie Antoinette said: "Let them eat cake.".
( Two periods look well out of place to me, but arguably there is a sentence enclosed in quotes)

To the zero option

Marie Antoinette once said "Let them eat cake"

With every permutation in between!!

Copywriters warn against using periods, because they interrupt the flow of the mind, so probably I would leave the periods out.

Here is a puzzler on a similar theme taken from a school English class, when I was young, so many moons ago.

Smith where Jones had had had had had had had had had had had my approval.


Mike, I would not use a survey of people as my style guide!

Thanks for the puzzler. It has too many "hads" for me, but I welcome your punctuating it for us.

Carol J. Amato

I am a business writing coach myself, and one of the things I stress for employees of companies doing business in other English-speaking countries is that they must be familiar with Britsh English rules. Having lived in England myself for several years, I can attest to the fact that it is easy to make grammatical mistakes by British standards if one is using American English.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Carol, good point. What do you suggest as a method for learning British English rules?


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