Recently a request was made for me to address the conundrum of the copious incurvatures—quotation marks and parentheses—and their circuitous relationship with various punctuation marks.
I welcomed the challenge with open arms. And as I attempted to wrap my brain around the task at hand, I flipped the pages of my Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS) to Chapter 6, and dove in. In an effort to make the cited rules more embraceable, I have incorporated in my examples quotes (some verbatim, some paraphrased) of George Carlin.
(Disclaimer: All italicized examples contain George Carlin’s words, in one form or another.)
Now, here we go.
6.9 Periods and commas in relation to closing quotation marks.
“Periods and commas precede closing quotation marks, whether double or single.”
“I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, ‘Where’s the self-help section?’ She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.”
6.10 Other punctuation in relation to closing quotation marks.
“Colons and semi-colons—unlike periods and commas—follow closing quotation marks; question marks and exclamation points follow closing quotations marks unless they belong within the quoted matter.”
After reading Last Words, I wanted to cite a quote from “Wurds, Werds, Words”; instead I picked one from “Two Guys in Their Underwear.”
6.70 Question marks in relation to surrounding text and punctuation.
“A question mark should be placed inside quotation marks, parentheses, or brackets only when it is part of … the quoted or parenthetical matter.”
(Statement/quoted question) George asked, “What wine goes with Captain Crunch?”
(Question/quoted statement) “Isn’t it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do ‘practice’?”
(Question/quoted question) Have you ever asked yourself, “If all the world is a stage, where is the audience sitting?”
(Dialogue/quoted statement) “What do you suppose he had in mind,” inquired Newman, “when he said, ‘Sometimes a little brain damage can help’?”
(Dialogue/quoted question) “Did he make you stop and think,” inquired Newman, “when he asked, ‘Is there another word for synonym?’”
6.11 Single quotation marks next to double quotation marks.
“When single quotation marks nested within double quotation marks appear next to each other, no space need be added between the two …”
“As I looked at the full moon last night,” Newman said, “I thought of his comment, ‘And then there are the times when the wolves are silent and the moon is howling.’”
6.13 Periods in relation to parentheses and brackets.
“When an entire independent sentence is enclosed in parentheses … , the period belongs inside the closing parenthesis/bracket. When matter in parentheses … , even a grammatically complete sentence, is included within another sentence, the period belongs outside.”
An exception to this GCPS (grammatically complete parenthetical sentence) rule would be the question mark, exclamation point, or quotation mark if they belong to the parenthetical matter. (6.96, Parentheses with other punctuation; 6.74, Exclamation points with quotation marks, parentheses, or brackets.)
Note: Do not cap any GCPS that is included within another sentence. However, if it is a standalone GCPS, capitalize and punctuate as appropriate.
(Standalone GCPS) “Everyone smiles in the same language.” (There isn’t one person who wouldn’t agree with that statement.)
(GCPS within a sentence) “When someone asks you, ‘A penny for your thoughts’ (that phrase at times has cost me dearly), and you put your two cents in, what happens to the other penny?”
6.53 Commas relative to parentheses and brackets.
“When the context calls for a comma at the end of material in parentheses or brackets, the comma should follow the closing parenthesis or bracket. A comma never precedes a closing parenthesis.”
(See GCPS quote above.)
6.120 Question mark with exclamation point.
“In the rare case of a question or exclamation ending with a title or quotation that ends in a question mark or exclamation point, include both marks only if they are different and the sentence punctuation seems essential.”
Who declared, “Let them eat cake!”?
6.118 Periods with question marks or exclamation points.
“A period … never accompanies a question mark or an exclamation point. The latter two marks, being stronger, take precedence over the period.”
Is there anyone who doesn’t agree with him when he says, “Life is not measured by the breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away”?
6.50 Commas with quotations.
“Material quoted in the form of dialogue or from text is traditionally introduced with a comma. If a quotation is introduced by that, whether, or a similar conjunction, no comma is needed.”
It was Carlin who said, “Just when I discovered the meaning of life, they changed it.”
Was it Carlin who said that “there’s a humorous side to every situation. The challenge is to find it”?
6.84 Em dashes to indicate sudden breaks.
“An em dash or a pair of em dashes may indicate a sudden break in thought or sentence structure or an interruption in dialogue. If the break belongs to the surrounding sentence rather than to the quoted material, the em dashes must appear outside the quotation marks.”
“Will I—can I—get this conundrum post finished on time?” asked Newman.
“Someday there will be a conundrum”—her voice quivered—“I won’t be able to solve.”
“I assure you, I will never—” Newman began, but she knew better than to say never, and stopped speaking.
13.39 Faltering or interrupted speech.
“Suspension points—also used to indicate an ellipsis—may be used to suggest faltering or fragmented speech accompanied by confusion or insecurity.”
“I … I … that is, we … yes, we have made an awful blunder!”
“But … but … ,” said Newman.
13.30 Quotation marks across paragraphs.
“If quoted material of more than one paragraph cannot be set as a block quotation … , quotation marks are needed at the beginning of each paragraph but at the end of only the final paragraph. … The same practice is followed in dialogue when one speaker’s remarks extend over more than one paragraph.”
And now, to wrap this post up, one final quote from George Carlin that expresses exactly why my 16th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style is never far from reach.
“The wisest man I ever knew taught me something I never forgot. And although I never forgot it, I never quite memorized it either. So what I’m left with is the memory of having learned something very wise that I can’t quite remember.”