Something that increasingly perplexes those of us who write using British English is the insistence by writers using American English on slipping unrelated punctuation into a quotation. So insistent, in fact, that it’s even been included in the Chicago Manual of Style as correct style however illogical it might seem to some of us.
Here’s an example:
N.Am English: Michael told me that he was too “busy.” (period within quote marks)For those of us using UK English rules it is very easy to determine that the punctuation mark following “busy” should occur outside the quote marks. Move the quoted word(s) to the middle of the sentence – if there’s no punctuation involved when the quote occurs elsewhere in the sentence then the punctuation is part of the sentence as a whole, not the quoted section, and should fall outside the quote marks.
UK English: Michael told me that he was too “busy”. (full stop outside quote marks)
N.Am and UK English: Michael told me that he was too “busy” to join us for dinner.However, a comma attached to the quotation in the middle of a sentence can stymie an unaware British English writer trying to write for a publication requiring Chicago Manual of Style rules:
N.Am English: Michael told me that he was too “busy,” but he would try to meet us another day.
UK English: Michael told me that he was too “busy”, but he would try to meet us another day.
One way to remember the North American rule is to realize that quotations are treated like dialogue (except when they actually occur within dialogue).
N.Am and UK: “Michael won’t be joining us,” Julie said. “He’s too ‘busy’.”Note how both the comma and the period fall within the dialogue’s quotation marks (reminiscent of the N.AM rule) but that ‘busy’ doesn’t include the period here (similar to the UK rule) because it’s already contained in dialogue.
How about you? Have you come across this difference in British and North American usage? Has it affected how you write for international publications?
Elsa Neal is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. Visit her website to download her free mini report on the Ten Most Frustrating Grammar Rules and How to Remember Them. Read up more on Grammar and Punctuation or browse through her Resources for Writers.