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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Punctuating Close Quotes in Four Easy Lessons

My loyal Frugal Editor readers, I decided to break some of Boyd Sutton's great article on Close Quotes into a few easy doses. I believe that sometimes the mistake good grammar teachers make is forcing too much on students in one lesson, just because the text they use puts all that information into one chapter. So here is Boyd's "Punctuating Close Quotes Part I, "Closing Quotes with Periods and Commas." And thank you Boyd, for contributing to The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor once again!

Oh, by the way. The easiest way to get other grammar, formatting, and other editing essentials from this blog is to subscribe! See the little subscription box in the left column.

By Boyd Sutton, editor of WRWA Journal

A good friend who was working on publicity for the Wisconsin Regional Writer's Association's Spring Conference in Siren, WI, brought to my attention that we had somehow managed to post some badly punctuated prose on our Web site. It’s a bit embarrassing for a writers’ Web site to get the basics of punctuation so wrong. But such mistakes are common, even among experienced writers. I see them every time I process Club News and other submissions for the Journal. Accordingly, I thought it might be useful to give everyone a brief reminder on some of the basic rules of punctuation, especially "Punctuation Marks and Closing Quotations."

Close Quotes with Periods and Commas

American style (they do it differently in England) requires that periods and commas always (repeat, always—-no exceptions) be inserted before the closing quotation marks. This is so whether the quotation involves an entire sentence, a phrase, or a single word.

Wrong: He told me I was “too harsh”.
Right: He told me I was “too harsh.”

The most frequent error I see in submissions is when citing a publication by an author.

Wrong: Her article, “The Bloom is Off the Roses”, was recently published in What’s Playing magazine.

Right: Her article, “The Bloom is Off the Roses,” was recently published in What’s Playing magazine.

The same problem occurs when someone cites several publications.

Wrong: Gina had three poems published last month: “Silence”, “Laughter”, and “Joy”.

Right: Gina had three poems published last month: “Silence,” “Laughter,” and “Joy.”

Always, always, always put periods and commas before the closing quotation marks.
Tomorrow we'll cover Colons and Semicolons.

Boyd Sutton is producer and editor of the Wisconsin Writers’ Journal, a quarterly publication of the Wisconsin Regional Writers Association . His articles, essays, and short stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines. He is a freelance editor and has won many writing awards, including the Jade Ring, Wisconsin’s most prestigious writing award, for his essay, “Owning Your Own Time—Managing Your Retirement.” He may be reached at This article first appeared in the 2008 winter edition of the Wisconsin Writers’ Journal.

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at Learn more about her other authors' aids at, where writers will find lists and other helps on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog.

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