Commas, Quotation Marks, and Apostrophes

Yes, when it comes to grammar, punctuation, and usage, I can be a little fussy (aka, pedantic, persnickety, and/or nitpicky). But like sexual orientation, it’s not a choice. I was born this way.

This post is about three of my personal punctuation pet peeves. How’s that, grammar nerds, for a wonderful example of alliteration?

First, I will opine about the Oxford comma. After that I will discuss the placements of period and commas with respect to quotation marks. And finally, a brief word on apostrophes.

Are you ready to rumble?

The Oxford comma

The Oxford Comma

The Oxford comma is a comma before the conjunction “and” or “or” preceding the last item at the end of a list of three or more items. Some suggest that use of the Oxford comma is optional. I don’t concur. Let me give you a few common examples where the absence of the Oxford comma can be problematic.

“We invited the strippers, Trump and Putin.”

Without the Oxford comma, that sentence implies that Trump and Putin are the strippers who were invited. But with the Oxford comma, “We invited the strippers, Trump, and Putin,” it becomes quite clear that Trump and Putin were each invited, along with the strippers.

Another frequently used example:

“I’d like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

Hey, unless you’re Jesus, God is not one of your parents. Neither is Ayn Rand, since she never had any children. What’s so hard about writing, “I’d like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand, and God”?

I’m not sure why anyone has a beef with using the Oxford comma, which always insures clarity in written communications. It’s not like the little comma takes up a lot of extra space. It’s not as if that one extra little keystroke will increase the amount of time it takes you to write whatever it is that you’re writing.

Why not, in the interest of clarity, insert that little comma each and every time? Why not ensure that people aren’t confused by what it is you’re trying to communicate?

Quotation punctuation

quotation

Let me state up-front that I write primarily for an American audience. I preface this rant with that caveat because I know that you Brits, Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders follow different punctuation rules.

And that’s fine. That’s the way you were taught. Who am I, just because America is the center of the universe, to suggest that you’re wrong? Even though you clearly are wrong.

That said, there is an American punctuation rule that states unequivocally that commas and periods must always be placed inside the end quotation marks, even if they are not part of what is being quoted.

Okay, I’ll admit that putting a period or comma inside the end quotation marks may not always make sense. But rules are rules, right?

A recent movement in this country, though, promotes what is called “logical punctuation.” As one grammar site noted:

“In the United States, periods and commas go inside quotation marks regardless of logic. In the United Kingdom, Canada, and islands under the influence of British education, punctuation around quotation marks is more apt to follow logic.”

This “logical punctuation” movement seems to have gained some level of grassroots acceptance in the U.S. I’m not surprised to see this trend developing,  given the proliferation of emails, chats, blogs, tweets, and Facebook posts, and the informality used in those forms of written communications.

Even Wikipedia, the “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” has embraced logical punctuation. Wikipedia’s style guide notes that “logical punctuation … is used here because it is deemed by Wikipedia consensus to be more in keeping with the principle of minimal change.”

This “principle of minimal change” means that if you put a period or comma inside quotation marks, you are wrongly suggesting that the period or comma is part of the quoted material, and thus you have “changed” it.

As a liberal, I am certainly not opposed to change. But as an American, I am bothered by this encroachment of the British way of using punctuation, or what is euphemistically called “logical punctuation.”

My fellow Americans, it’s really not that difficult. Put the goddam period or comma WITHIN the freakin’ end quotations marks.

Oh, one more little thing

If you’re using an apostrophe to make a word plural, as in “Stop by the grocery store and pick up some banana’s and apple’s on your way home.” STOP IT, DAMMIT, STOP IT!

27 thoughts on “Commas, Quotation Marks, and Apostrophes

  1. gracious, lil scapegoat July 4, 2017 / 9:13 pm

    I will confeas to occasionally, and I do stop to debate myself (and lose causr myself debates while I am more of a boxer), sometimes put the comma outside. Also, on my tablet, the double-space after a period sometimes gives me a space at a beginning of a new line. So I quit like 27 hours ago, give or take. I am in total agreement with you, but my tablet’s not. It also made me say children’s when it was plural possessive, which is probably okay, but I wasn’t considering children is already plural at that moment and I might have wrinkled my nose a bit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango July 4, 2017 / 9:50 pm

      Don’t be too hard on yourself. Writing blog posts is not like writing academic papers or newspaper/magazine articles. I don’t know of any bloggers who don’t at least occasionally make grammatical and punctuation errors — me included. And I agree that using a tablet or smartphone makes it even more challenging to “get it right” than when using a full-size keyboard and a large computer monitor. As long as you get your message across, it’s all good. And from your posts that I’ve read, you do a good job of getting your message across.

      Liked by 1 person

      • gracious, lil scapegoat July 4, 2017 / 10:03 pm

        Aw, thank you. I get a bit OCD.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. cagedunn November 13, 2018 / 4:22 pm

    Did you know this is all a furphy? It is. There may be some slight differences in how things are done, but that’s down to individuals, not grammar rules.
    “double quotes” are used to indicate speech, some do this for the main dialogue, with single quotes used inside to cover other elements of quoting within dialogue; some people do it the other way around – that’s down to editors, not grammar.
    Some people (and I might be one of them) do this:

    “I’m going to show you how to ‘quote within a quote’,” I say, and I do it this way to ensure the comma separates the three quotes because it Drives Me Crazy when I can’t see the change clearly enough.
    And I read American, understand it, and have seen it written both ways. Yes, UK, Aus, and NZ writers have done it as well.
    The rule isn’t, and never was, to put the punctuation outside the quote marks unless it makes the text within the dialogue separate from the risk of doubled up quotations or doubled-up punctuation, like this:
    The rules were made up by ‘idiots’. Or should that be ‘idiots?’ this is one of the cases where the punctuation should be outside the quotes because putting it inside changes the purpose of what’s inside the quote.
    Simple? yeah, right, especially when there’s so much guff out there where people pretend they know what they’re doing and make rules for everyone that just don’t make logical sense … and that’s my rant.
    Write to be understood – that’s what matters, isn’t it?

    Like

    • Fandango November 13, 2018 / 5:45 pm

      What’s a furphy? I didn’t write the rules, but in my opinion, unless a question mark is part of what is being quoted, it should be outside of the end quotation marks. As to periods and commas, I think they should always be within the end quotation marks. And it Drives Me Crazy when they are not. You’re arguing for “logical punctuation,” and I understand it, but I am a traditionalist and strive to follow the generally accepted American punctuation rules, which I believe, fosters better understanding of the written word.

      Liked by 1 person

      • cagedunn November 13, 2018 / 6:14 pm

        A furphy is something someone made up – a story, something like the two ‘scientists’ who said that the world was believed to be flat before they discovered it wasn’t.
        I think we’re saying the same thing, and I’m not American, but I use the same forms of punctuation. Always have. In school and uni and work, and now in fiction. the furphy is that there is a difference – there isn’t, just some people don’t understand how to put it all together. We may use different spelling for some things, but when it comes to grammatical structure, we follow the same basic rules – even if some places make up their own ‘style guidelines’ to make it clear what they’re willing to accept as the ‘right’ way to do it.

        Liked by 2 people

        • cagedunn November 13, 2018 / 6:17 pm

          furphy
          /ˈfəːfi/Submit
          nounINFORMAL•AUSTRALIAN
          noun: furphy; plural noun: furphies
          a rumour or story, especially one that is untrue or absurd.
          “I remembered the schoolyard furphies about sewer gangs”
          Origin
          First World War: from the name painted on water and sanitary carts manufactured by the Furphy family of Shepparton, Victoria; during the war they became popular as a place where soldiers exchanged gossip, often when visiting the latrines.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Marleen November 13, 2018 / 5:37 pm

    I concur with you, that I don’t concur with the “some” (or the new supposed wisdom) on the Oxford comma. It’s super easy, clear, and reasonable to use that comma every time. On your last subject — skipping that in the middle {for a second} — what I used to see most commonly in that regard was something like “the 1980’s” or “A’s”, for plural years or plural letters/grades. I’m not seeing it as much any more.

    I’m conflicted about the rule for putting extraneous punctuation inside quotation marks. But I was always uncomfortable with it (while I did it anyway) before I knew other countries handled it differently. I’m probably inconsistent about it now. I haven’t had to decide firmly, as I’m not writing academic papers or anything like that.

    I will say I have been shocked at how many people just don’t seem to care about spelling or even getting the right word for what they mean when writing for their work. An example is saying someone is not reliable for something when what is meant is “liable.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Melanie B Cee November 14, 2018 / 10:38 am

    Yes. DO STOP THE INSANITY!!! You forgot to include, through no fault of your own, I’m certain, the overuse of emphatic punctuation such as the exclamation point; and the use of punctuation as emjois in this new age. And I so fully agree with that last sentiment that I could cry. This is being reblogged, just so you know.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. crushedcaramel November 14, 2018 / 10:53 am

    I am sure I am guilty of careless use of commas… I am sometimes so dozy tired when I am typing I end up with long unwieldy sentences that don’t make sense without commas.

    Sorry, if I have annoyed you by garish grammar!

    …are you volunteering to edit all our draft posts before we publish? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango November 14, 2018 / 1:37 pm

      “…are you volunteering to edit all our draft posts before we publish?” Sure, my editing fees are very reasonable. 😏

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Willow November 14, 2018 / 11:21 am

    I’m fifty-two years old, and the rules for commas have changed in my lifetime (for American Standard English). What I knew to be “true” in grammar school totally isn’t nowadays. Same for capitalization and the spelling of many words That’s taught me that rules for language — any language — are arbitrary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marleen November 14, 2018 / 11:32 am

      Other than the Oxford comma, I do often handle commas differently than I used to; in school it seemed like there were supposed to be perfect ways to do it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango November 14, 2018 / 2:34 pm

      I think, since the introduction of text messaging, instant messaging, and social media, the “traditional” grammar, punctuation, usage, and spelling rules have pretty much gone by the wayside.

      Like

      • Willow November 14, 2018 / 2:38 pm

        Oh, changes in grammar started happening long before text messaging, but I’ll agree that text messaging has impacted the written word a lot. However, I’m talking about American Standard English… not text speak. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Taswegian1957 November 14, 2018 / 2:18 pm

    I am pleased to find that so many people care enough about this subject to debate it. as we live in a world of texters and tweeters who can hardly communicate in whole words let alone punctuate. As I was born and started school in Britain and have lived all my life in Australia I’m going to respectfully remind you that we do call it “The Queen’s English”. It drives me crazy when I see American spelling creeping into our everyday language. In Australia, it seems that either British or American spelling is acceptable. What do you people have against the letter “u”? I have been using Grammarly recently in an effort to improve my writing but as I’m using the free version it keeps insisting I should use “z” when I want to use “s”. Sorry, but I am too old to change the way I spell now. I do agree strongly about the apostrophe in the wrong places though. I’m still trying to come to grips with the Oxford comma. I understood your examples, thanks for that image of Trump as a stripper by the way. If you think of a comma as a pause in your speech it makes sense but sometimes putting a comma as well as “and” at the end of a list looks odd to me. I have a dim memory of being told that was not necessary when I was at school. I’ll have to analyse the sentences the next time I write a post and this comes up.
    Thank you for an interesting post and that darn Grammarly is objecting to analyse now. Too bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango November 14, 2018 / 6:56 pm

      Does your Grammarly have a setting that recognizes (or recognises) British (I mean the Queen’s) English? My autocorrect on my iPhone does.

      Like

      • Taswegian1957 November 15, 2018 / 6:24 am

        I am using the free version and I think that to customise it I would have to pay. I will just have to see if I still have a copy of “Eats Shoots and Leaves”.

        Liked by 1 person

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