July 14, 2014

'Have Got'

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Those two little words, when used together, can cause a lot of trouble. Here's what you need to know to avoid it. (Spoiler: The anti-"have got" cops don't quite get it.)

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Periods and Commas with Quotation Marks
Posted by June on July 14, 2014


In the past, I've written about one of the red flags that alerts me that something I’m reading may not have been edited by professionals: an absence of commas after years, dates, and Inc. As in It was March 14, 2008 when Widgets, Inc. moved from Flint, Mich. to India. If that were professionally edited, 2008, Inc., and Mich. would all have commas after them.

But the other common thing I see that makes me question the professionalism of something I’m reading is a comma or a period after a closing quotation mark.

The company’s slogan was “Think different”.

She hates it when people say, “My bad”.

Known as “quantitative easing”, the process has its critics.

Assuming I’m not reading something edited in British style, when I see this, I know the text wasn't edited professionally. That's because, in American editing styles, a period or comma always comes before a closing quotation mark.

The company’s slogan was “Think different.”

She hates it when people say, “My bad.”

Known as “quantitative easing,” the process has its critics.

People who aren’t professional editors wouldn’t guess this because it makes no sense, especially in light of how question marks and exclamation points are handled. They can go inside or outside a closing quotation mark, depending on whether they pertain to the whole sentence or just the portion in quotation marks.

I used to watch “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

Did you see “Last Comic Standing”?

The American rule for periods and commas is based on aesthetic considerations. Style makers decided a long time ago that it’s easier on the eye to just put the period or comma inside, even though it’s less logical and even though it contradicts the rules for question marks and exclamation points.

That’s the kind of thing you just have to know. In the Internet age, more and more of the writing we see online is produced by people who don’t know that. And chances are that, by not knowing the rules, they're slowly changing them.

But until that change is official, I’ll continue to consider a comma or period outside a closing quote mark as an indication that whatever I’m reading isn’t as professional as the writer might like me to think it is.


June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more

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