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Punctuation Guide


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Commas | Semicolons and Colons | Quotations & Dialogue

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Quotation marks are used in dialogue; to set off words, terms and names; and to quote printed material. The rules differ slightly among the different functions. I have tried to note as much as I could here.

Use in Dialogue

#1 General: Quotation marks are placed around the exact words of a speaker. The words may be a complete sentence, a clause, a phrase, or a single word. Punctuation and capitalization vary depending on the sentence structure:

a) "You cannot begin to understand what I've been through, Ron," Hermione scolded. "I doubt you have ever been raped by a Death Eater."
b) "So?" he retorted insesitively.
c) Hermione spun around and stuck a finger in his face. "Well," she answered, "it seems Harry was right. You really don't care, do you?"
d) "Well, if that's what you both wish to think," he yelled, "you can just sod off!"

You will notice in all four examples above, that commas, periods, question marks and exclamation points fall within the closing quotation mark. This is very important, and it is non-negotiable in dialogue. There is always some form of punctuation that ends what is being said before you place the quotation mark.

#2 Double Punctuation: Double Punctuation is not used at the end of a direct quotation. If the sentence needs one type of punctuation and the direct quotation needs another type, the "stronger" punctuation should be retained. The comma and the period are the weakest marks and are usually dropped, while the exclamation point is usually--but not always--stronger than the question mark. The overall sense of the sentence must be taken into account.

a) I walked into the office, sat down, and listened as Ron screamed in the other room, "Why did it have to be this way?"
b) Correct: Who yelled, "Look out!" Incorrect: Who yelled, "Look out!"?
c) Correct: "Well, didn't she yell, 'Where is everybody?'" Incorrect: "Well, didn't she yell, 'Where is everybody?'?"

#3 Formatting: The comments of each speaker should begin a new line (if you are indenting) or paragraph. In the world of fanfiction, our paragraphs are denoted with a double return to place a space between, since indenting does not show well in html.

If one of the speakers continues for more than one paragraph, the closing quotation marks are NOT used until the person stops speaking.

When Used to Set Off Words, Terms and Names

#1 A Word Referred to as a Word: These are usually placed within italics; however quotation marks may be used. Whichever form is chosen, it should be used consistently.

The Killing Curse is Avada Kadavra.
The Killing Curse is "Avada Kadavra." (Please note: the period DOES go within the end quotes!)

#2 Titles: Titles of books and other separately published literary works are usually set in italics.

Quotation marks are used to set off titles of magazines, journal and newspaper articles; columns; short stories; poems; essays; and other parts of a larger published work. Titles of movies and plays are italicized, while titles of radio and television shows are always placed in quotation marks.

#3 Quotation Marks with Italics: Quotation marks should not be used with words, phrases, or titles that are italicized or underscored. One form is considered sufficient.

When Used to Quote Someone or Something

The most frequently asked question about quotation marks is: "Where does the period (or comma or semicolon, etc) go--before or after the quotation marks?" So, here you go.

#1 With a Comma or Period: The comma and period are placed before the closing quotation mark.

a) It was all right to say that he "eased" back into normal life; however, many people remarked that he "eased with much unease."

b) It was certainly difficult for her with words such as "whore," "tramp," and "easy," but most of all "Mudslut," being whispered behind her back.

#2 With a Semicolon or Colon: The semicolon and colon are placed after the closing quotation mark.

a) The newspaper touted him as "The Hero of the Wizarding World"; however, he didn't feel much like a hero.

b) Ron flinched as Hermione held out the hat to each person, intent upon her latest charitable "collection": Help Ron Get New Dress Robes!!

#3 With a Question Mark or Exclamation Point: Question marks and exclamation points are placed before closing quotation marks when the entire quotation is a question or exclamation. They are placed after closing quotation marks when only words or phrases are being quoted.

a) She wondered to herself: "Why is Ron so opposed to the idea of a 'collection'?"

b) She determined to make it a point the next time she saw him, to ask: "Why were you such a prat? Don't you know how much that hurt me?"

#4 BRITISH RULE For those who follow British punctuation rules, the rule for this is slightly different: Punctuation that belongs to the surrounding sentence falls outside of the quotation marks (even commas and periods). Of course, if the punctuation belongs to the quoted speech, it falls within the quotation marks.

a) Did I hear you say, 'Can I have more?' (belongs to the quoted speech)

b) He was tired of the nickname 'Scarface', and he endeavoured to hex the next person who called him that.

c) She looked at the board and wanted to shout with glee. She had received an 'O'!

The material above, save for the examples that were all mine, was taken from
The New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage, First Edition, 1994.

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