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717richboy's avatar

A question about the way my sentences are written (calling all English majors!)

Asked by 717richboy (234 points ) January 9th, 2012

Here is an example sentence. I am working on writing an article, and I am a perfectionist. The way I have written this sentence doesn’t look right, so if someone can tell me what I can do you fix it, it’d be greatly appreciated:

The girl asked three questions: “how are you?”, “what are you doing?”, and “how long before we reach our destination?”

Now, this isn’t the actual sentence, but this is an example of the format I am having trouble with. After the questions in quotes, do the commas go after the quotations like that?

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17 Answers

Charles's avatar

I think a period still follows the sentence like this

”...destination?”.

And, all the questions start with a capital letter.

CaptainHarley's avatar

The girl asked three questions: “How are you?” “What are you doing?” and “How long before we reach our destination?”

That’s the way I would write it.

flutherother's avatar

I would write it as you did but I would drop the comma after the second question.

gearedtolaugh's avatar

Drop the commas, capitalize the beginning letters in each quote, and add a period at the end.

LostInParadise's avatar

Capitalize the start of each question and place the commas inside of the end quotes.

The girl asked three questions: “How are you?,” “What are you doing?,” and “How long before we reach our destination?”

Reference

JLeslie's avatar

I think it is either this:

The girl asked three questions: “How are you?” “What are you doing?” And, “how long before we reach our destination?”

Or, this:

The girl asked three questions: “How are you? What are you doing?” And, “how long before we reach our destination?”

Or, maybe the quotes are not necesarry at all? The quotes need to be there if there is an active conversation, but do they need to be there if it is just the author recanting the questions? Now, I am not sure, I have overthought it. I sent it to one of our language experts.

submariner's avatar

The questions are items in a list, and should be separated by commas like any other list items, as you have done. In US usage, but not in UK usage, there is generally a comma before the and in a list. Do not put the commas inside the quotation marks; LostInParadise is misapplying that rule. Capitalization could go either way in this case (like apostrophes at the end of names that end in in -s, practice varies), but since you are reporting separate questions that she actually said in her own words, capitalizing them would not be wrong. You could leave them uncapitalized, however, and may wish to do so for stylistic reasons. You could also present them as three separate indented paragraphs for a different effect. A period at the end is not necessary.

JLeslie's avatar

Oh yeah, @submariner makes a good point. Here is my answer now.

The girl asked three questions: “How are you, what are you doing, and how long before we reach our destination?”

I still think maybe no quotes are necessary, not sure.

submariner's avatar

^If you put them all in one set of quotation marks like that, it means that’s exactly what she said, in one utterance, including the word and. I took the original meaning to be that the girl asked the questions separately over the course of the trip.

JLeslie's avatar

@submariner I agree. I’m back to one of my original answers.

LostInParadise's avatar

@submariner, How am I misapplying the rule that “Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks”?

submariner's avatar

^The quotation marks eliminate need for the comma that might go at the end of quoted material. There is no need to double up final punctuation like that. Also, commas at the end of quoted material are functionally different from commas that separate list items. The example of rule number 1 in your link is also a misleading one; commas are not needed at all in the example she gives about the pedestrian light.

LostInParadise's avatar

@submariner , Grammatical arguments are not much to my liking, but I stand by my original statement. All references I have come across say that commas always (no exceptions) go inside the end quote. I do not see any reason to treat commas in a list as a special case.

Second reference

submariner's avatar

^I don’t much like grammatical arguments either, so I won’t parse the various rules for you. I will just ask you to see if you can find even a single citation by a competent writer who puts a comma after a question mark, exclamation point, or period within quotation marks as you did in your first response. Better yet, just read the note after rule 2 in your first link. It also applies to commas.

Please don’t take this stuff personally. I’m not pointing this out to annoy you, I’m just trying to answer the OP’s question.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Either:

The girl asked three questions: “how are you?”, “what are you doing?”, and “how long before we reach our destination?”

or:

The girl asked three questions: “How are you?”, “What are you doing?”, and “How long before we reach our destination?”

The rule about putting commas inside quotes does not hold when the quoted portion contains its own terminal punctuation. This is the same reason there is no period at the end of the sentence despite the fact that the overall statement is not a question. This is an odd case, but @submariner diagnosed it correctly: we’re dealing with a list, so the items (which are the complete questions, including question and quotation marks) must be separated by commas.

Ultimately, though, remember that clarity of communication and aesthetics of presentation matter. If the rules tell you to do something confusing and/or ugly, you have good justification to play around with the conventions (within reason).

No sources, just a lifetime of being edited mercilessly for my own good.

submariner's avatar

I did mistype something, though. When I wrote, “The quotation marks eliminate need for the comma that might go at the end of quoted material,” I meant, “The question marks eliminate need for the comma that might go at the end of the quoted material.”

SavoirFaire's avatar

I completely missed that! Strange what the eyes see—or fail to see—sometimes.

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