« Subversive Tech Tip #20, Part 2: Solutions | Main | Dear Carol: E-book Indexes, Elusive Endnotes, and Wildcard Searches »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


I'm all for "logical punctuation".

Rebecca Zorach

What I want to know is why American college students nearly uniformly insist on using the British style (much as they uniformly insist on using "he" as the gender-neutral pronoun). Is it part of a curriculum they're all getting in high school?


You're not the only one, Carol, not to know the complexities of British punctuation rules. I've never edited a British work, so I'm unfamiliar with those rules as well. I suspect that's the case for most writers and editors. If you haven't worked in a particular language, why would you know the rules?

I'm all for punctuation rules that are simple, efficient, and logical, be they British, American, or who knows what. If punctuation rules are easier, that gives me more time to deal with other issues and help the author create a work worth publishing.

Lea Galanter

I'm confused about a word used: Is it "snowclowning" or "snowcloning"? The article link indicates the word is "snowclone". Yes, I use British punctuation in my personal correspondence. I think it looks better not to have a large space between the last letter of the word and the ending quotation mark (but maybe that's just me). Also, in technical writing, there are times when you can't put the period inside the quotation mark, for example, when you're supplying a line of code or data the user needs to input exactly as written -- you don't want the reader to think the period is part of the code.

Carol Saller

Lee, you're right—the noun is "snowclone." But in inventing my verb I was trying to make a point. (Sorry if it bombed!)

Hyman Rosen

I favor one simple rule - if the punctuation is part of the original quotation then it goes inside the quotes, otherwise it goes outside.

Jonathon Owen

Carol, I believe Lea was trying to point out that you have an extra w in "snowcloning".

And for what it's worth, CMOS recommends plenty of rules that you have to puzzle over or research every time.

Carol Saller

Okay, I can tell my pun sailed way over the heads of some readers. I believe that Ben Yagoda was "clowning around" with a "snowclone," so I combined those ideas into "snowclowning." Get it? Ouch. I know. Again, my apologies.


Of course there must be a word such as snowclowning. How else would one describe the mocking of a current, but silly, trend?

Dave Robb

Carol, I got your pun, and I liked it! (Somebody had to say it.) I remember that Slate piece, and what irked me was not the idea of adopting so-called "logical" punctuation, but the idea that we might do so just because nobody knows the rules. Following that logic, would we just dispense with "its" vs "it's" and all the rest?


The British system (which I use, being British) is logical: if what's in the quote needs punctuating, then punctuate it (i.e., if it's a complete sentence). The rule is only hard to follow if people quote part-sentences with active verbs, but I think that looks awkward anyway so I don't do it.

John said, "The American punctuation system is the best."
John believes that the American punctuation system is "the best".
John believes that "the best" punctuation system is the American one.

I won't comment on the American system myself because I don't know whether it is being used properly in the examples I see.


Wow, you were clearly misquoted. Shame on Mr. Yagoda! Unfortunately, in your response you mischaracterize logical punctuation as well by implying that punctuation would never go outside the quotation marks.

There are two cases for punctuation and quotes, only one of which differs between logical and american styles. The first case is where one is quoting a sentence or a fragment that contain punctuation:

His reply was "What?". (Everyone's style)

The second case, where the quoted material has no quote, is where things differ.

As she put it, "excellent". (Logical style*)
As she put it, "excellent." (American & apparently British style according to AngrySubEditor).

American style has always rubbed this American the wrong way as I feel strongly that quoted material should never be altered.

*(I am distinguishing between logical style, as elucidated by Mr. Yagoda, and British style, which this post points out has its own complexities)

Carol Saller

Jaywilmont, I think you might be misreading my remark that commas and periods go outside the quotation marks in "logical style"; I was pretty careful not to claim this for punctuation in general.


Thank you for the explanation between the American and British methods of punctuation in quotations.

It's been puzzling me for the last few months after an Idaho university instructor insisted on the APA style for a management class and stated it was the only grammatically correct method. Apparently I learned the British method in elementary school (the instructor was from England) and no other instructor complained even though I wrote numerous papers en route to an MBA.

In the end, I just did the APA style since I was taught to "write to the audience".

Val S.

It was bound to become a bigger issue now that English speakers everywhere are communicating online. Shall we discuss verb agreement and collective nouns? "My family are coming home for Christmas." "My family is coming home for Christmas."

Diana Flynn

I am so sick of American punctuation getting such a bad rap. The real logical way to write is the way that will be understood and appreciated by one's readers.

Wikipedia outright banned American punctuation, even on American English articles. It now requires the dumbed-down version of British that you describe. People can ACTUALLY get brought up on AN/I for using American punctuation.

Stowe Boyd

I think you meant 'snowcloning'.

Carol Saller

Stowe, if you read through the other comments, you'll see my explanation of "snowclowning." (You weren't the only one to miss the pun. I'm thoroughly regretting it now!)

Marilyn Johnson Tarnowski

Diana Flynn's comment noting that Wikipedia has banned American-style punctuation answers exactly the question that brings me to the site tonight: Why, oh why, do my students (college undergrads) insist on placing commas and periods after a closing quote, no matter how many times I mark the error (I have a Word macro programmed to red-bold-underline and increase font by 2 pts at the stroke of a key), no matter how many LOL Cat memes I make up to explain the preference. Another thing to blame on Wikipedia! I'm debating either giving up and ignoring the usage entirely or circulating "auto-correct as you type" instructions at the start of the term. Sigh.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)