End-Marks: On the Other Hand

Yesterday, I made a big deal out of the fact that an end-mark goes at the end of a sentence.  There is one notable exception in American English: Sentences ending with quotations.

If your sentence ends with a quotation, the end-mark is placed inside the closing quotation marks, whether or not the punctuation is part of the quotation.

She repeated her assertion, saying that the typesetters were “completely wrong.”

According to a rather clearly written article at Wikipedia, the reason for this preference has more to do with typesetting preferences than with grammar.  Apparently, smaller pieces of type, such as commas and periods, were more easily damaged, so putting them inside the quotation marks protected them.

In England, the more grammatical guideline is followed, and the end-mark is included only when it is part of the quote.  This makes a lot more sense, so you’d think that I’d favor the English style.

However, I do not, and all I can say in my own defense is that I think it looks nicer the American way.  I know; that’s a lame reason.

It’s especially lame when you consider the fact that one must go to great, ridiculous lengths sometimes to avoid ambiguity or confusion when following the American guidelines.  For example, when I give reading quizzes to my students, I ask them to identify important quotes from the text.  What I want to write would look like this:

In Romeo and Juliet, which character says, “A curse o’ both your houses!”?

The exclamation point is part of the quote and I think it’s important to include it in this case, because a student not remembering the exact quote might remember the sentiment when it is expressed this way.  Mercutio is quite annoyed (to say the least!) with the Montagues and Capulets when he screams this in the town square.  However, because I’m asking a question here (Which character says…), I need a question mark at the end of the sentence, and I can’t very well put it inside the quotation marks, can I?

 In Romeo and Juliet, which character says, “A curse o’ both your houses!?”

Even if I didn’t think the exclamation point was necessary, I’d still have to put the question mark inside the quotation marks if I wanted to follow the American standard.

In Romeo and Juliet, which character says, “A curse o’ both your houses?”

As you can see, this could really confuse a student who might be racking his or her brain to remember which character would ask a question like this!

This has led to my having to reword the instructions.  Instead of asking a question in this manner, I have to give an instruction at the top of the page:  Identify the speaker of each of these quotes from Romeo and Juliet.  This allows me to quote passages exactly with no ambiguity of meaning.

In situations where I am not expected to model good, American English, I might not be so rigid.  The example in the Wikipedia article is a good one: If you’re quoting something that includes a URL, you don’t want your audience thinking an end-mark is part of the URL.  Athough I wonder who would think that in this Web-saturated culture, the point must be reiterated that good writing is clear first and elegant second.  If there’s a chance someone might misunderstand you, find a way to follow the established conventions of whatever language you’re writing in (as in my re-wording of the reading quiz questions) without compromising clarity.

End-Marks Go at the End (after Parentheses, Even).

Well, the title really says it all. If a parenthetical statement ends your sentence, close the parentheses and put the period outside. There is no need to put a period inside, even if your parenthetical statement is a complete sentence:

The band’s new drummer was welcomed enthusiastically by long-time fans (the original drummer died last year).

If your parenthetical statement is made up of more than once sentence, then of course you need a period after each sentence, but at the end, close the parentheses and then put your end-mark.

The one exception to this guideline is when you need a question mark or exclamation point for the parenthetical statement. In this case, go ahead and use the end-mark inside the parentheses, but don’t forget to put one outside the parentheses as well.

We incidentally touched hands when we both reached for the maple-syrup pitcher at the same time (Oh my goodness, what soft hands!).

She had the short stack; I ordered the Monte Cristo (much too fattening, but who cares?).

Now everyone get out there and parenthesize correctly (yes, I really mean it).

Usage Tuesday: I Wish I May; I Wish I Might

@aipohaku Twittered yesterday:

Anyone know the difference between may and might? I may go or I might go?

Great question! The two words do have different meanings, but when you are talking about the possibility of something happening, such as in her example above, the words are interchangeable.

My question for DailyWritingTip.com readers is whether there is a difference in their minds between may and might. When you say them, does one mean more likely than another? I don’t think I distinguish between the two when I use them. What about you? Does one mean “most likely,” while the other means “probably not?”

All Together Now

I don’t see this very often, but I see it often enough never to be surprised by it.

On our day of shopping at three different malls, we spent a thousand dollars altogether.

We all made an extra effort to be home last Christmas, because nobody knew when the siblings would have another chance to spend the holidays altogether.

In both of these examples, the writer means to say all together (two words), not altogether, which has an altogether different meaning. Actually, it has two altogether different meanings. The first and most common use is as an adverb, as I’ve used it in these last two sentences, meaning completely or wholly.

The second use is as a noun, as in I forgot to knock on the bathroom door and accidentally saw you in the altogether.

Yes, it means nude. Now read those example sentences and try not to giggle.

Weekend Photo: Another from BK

The service at this BK is not the best, and the clientele tends to be on the noisy side, but it’s close to home and sometimes you just gotta get some flame-grilled hamburger meat in you. That’s not a euphemism. However, it has been almost a goldmine of great photos, as evidenced last weekend. Here’s one I took a few months ago.


Have a meaty weekend!

ps: In case you’re trying to figure out what the cut-off name of the company is, it’s Kazi.  I know you were imaging a different letter there, but really.  If it had been Nazi, don’t you think I’d have made SURE to include the whole name in the photo?  🙂

Friday Quiz: Cymbalta

Yes, it’s another prescription medicine commercial. Can you spot the grammatical errors? Watch the commercial, then click continue reading below and see if your answer matches mine! I have to warn you that there are all kinds of things wrong with this, and I might not catch them all, so do the best you can and let’s compare notes.

Get the Flash Player to see this movie.

Continue reading Friday Quiz: Cymbalta

Change With a Capital C

In this election season, there are a few rules about capitalization you should keep in mind.

The United States is a democracy.  The current mayor of Honolulu is a Democrat, while the current governor of Hawaii is a Republican.  When speaking of the political parties, don’t forget to capitalize them.  I am a libertarian, but only when I remember to pay party dues am I a Libertarian.

When using elected offices as titles, always capitalize, as in Senator Inouye and Representative Hirono.  When referring to the offices, don’t capitalize, as in the representatives and senators from your state.

There is only one President, and his name is George W. Bush.  Former presidents are addressed as Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush, and Mr. Carter.  I guess this isn’t really a capitalization issue, but it’s worth mentioning.

The president of your company is just the president (unless you’re addressing him with a title, such as President Redenbacher).  George W. Bush is the President.  We capitalize president only for that one office.

I know there are differing opinions about these, so you may have to check the style manuals of whatever organization you’re writing for.  People tend to overcapitalize, so wherever you can get away with not capitalizing, I recommend you do!

Dissenting opinions, anyone?

Getting Your Money’s Worth

Most people would not forget the apostrophe in getting your money’s worth.  This is an appropriate apostrophe, because the phrase means to get one thing in exchange for an (at least) equal value of money, literally or figuratively.  The worth of your money is your money’s worth, just as the car of your friend is your friend’s car.

However, you frequently see sentences like these.

I was out of town on a trip, so when I finally got together with Shelby, she had a weeks worth of gossip saved up to share with me.

When my roomie moved out unexpectedly for the summer, I had to cover three months rent all by myself.

In both cases, we’re talking about a sort of possession: The gossip worth of three weeks and the rent of three months.  In both cases, apostrophes are needed.  I hope you have received your money’s worth from today’s quick tip!

Usage Tuesday: Suddenly, He Slowed to a Halt

In one of my favorite Peanuts strips, Snoopy is sitting atop his doghouse, typing away at his portable typewriter. We see him type, Suddenly, a shot rang out! One of the other characters (Lucy, I think) reads the sentence and says that a writer must be keenly aware of every word, and wonders aloud if suddenly is the right word in this case. Snoopy tries again, typing, Gradually, a shot rang out!

A quick Google search of that phrase returns 355 hits, so I am not the only one who remembers this strip. It is a reminder that we often use words like suddenly as storytelling devices for dramatic effect, when most of the time they are completely unnecessary. It is true that a gunshot cannot ring out gradually, so suddenly becomes a redundancy. Remember, good writing is clear first and elegant second, and redundancy is seldom elegant. Words like eventually, suddenly, ultimately, and unexpectedly are very often extraneous, depending on the contexts in which we use them. Keep an eye out for them when you proofread your own work, and if your sentences mean exactly the same without the words, cross them out suddenly!

Mumbo-Jumbo Monday: Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

A verb, as you know, is a word that provides the action (or state of being) in a sentence. In a sentence like I named my new cat, the action word is named. In this sentence, my new cat is the thing receiving the action. This is called an object.

Does the example sentence make sense without the object?

I named.

No. This is a verb that requires an object if the sentence is going to make sense. We call this verb a transitive verb. Some verbs only make sense with no object, as in I slept. You can name something, but you can’t sleep something, as in I slept the cat. Because it requires no object, sleep is called an intransitive verb.

Some verbs work transitively OR intransitively, based upon their meaning.

I smell.
I smell the coffee.

In this first sentence, smell means to have a bad odor, which requires no object. In the second sentence, smell means to sense, through the nose, certain characteristics of something, so an object is necessary. In the first case, smell is intransitive. In the second, smell is transitive.

When we looked at lay vs. lie last week, I didn’t say it this way because I’m trying to avoid grammatical mumbo-jumbo as much as possible, but take a look at those examples again. Can you tell which verb is transitive and which is intransitive?

Here are the examples again:

I will lay this mint upon your pillow.
Please lay the newspaper at my feet.
If you lay one finger on her, she will scream.

My Bonnie lies over the ocean.
Please lie down on the examining table.
All I want to do is lie upon the beach.

As you can see, none of them makes a LOT of sense when you remove the second halves of the sentences, but the first three REALLY don’t make sense. You must lay something, but you don’t lie anything. You do lie on something, over something, or beneath something, but you don’t actually lie something, so lay is the transitive verb and lie is the intransitive verb. Perhaps this will help us come up with a workable mnemonic!