3 Types of Quotation Errors

By Mark Nichol

In the following sentences, something about the treatment of a quotation interferes with comprehension. Discussion of the error, and a revision of the sentence, follows each example.

1. “We are seeing our efforts having some effect on their financial flows. And it’s difficult to get a handle on just how much because of the different illicit ways in which they are handling their finances, but you’ve seen the efforts that our military has taken to take out cash-storage sites, and I think it is our hope and expectation that that will have demonstrable effects. On what order of magnitude, I think it’s difficult to say,” said Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism adviser.

It is not until the end of this seventy-seven-word statement that we learn who said it. Attribution of a speaker or writer should occur much sooner, preferably at the end of the first of two or more sentences, or even interrupting two independent clauses within the first sentence: “We are seeing our efforts having some effect on their financial flows,” said Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism adviser. “And it’s difficult . . . .”

2. At times, I would succumb to a, “I’m not sure they’re going to make it” mind-set.

When a quotation that represents a categorical statement follows the article a/an or the, no punctuation should precede the quotation: “At times, I would succumb to a ‘I’m not sure they’re going to make it’ mind-set.” (The phrase can also be written without quotation marks but linked by hyphens: “At times, I would succumb to a I’m-not-sure-they’re-going-to-make-it mind-set.” However, because that extended phrasal adjective could conceivably be spoken, and it is cumbersome as a hyphenated phrase, the format treating it as a quotation is preferable.)

3. She rallied the crowd by crying “shame on you, John.”

The verb that precedes this quotation should be followed by a comma, and the first word should be capitalized. Also, a cry is a loudly delivered statement, so an exclamation point is appropriate: “She rallied the crowd by crying, ‘Shame on you, John!’”

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2 Responses to “3 Types of Quotation Errors”

  • Greg Marano

    In the second example, shouldn’t it be ‘an’ that precedes the ‘I’m’? It seems that the article should be chosen by the vowel sound that immediately follows it instead of the consonant sound of “mind” that comes after the phrase.

  • Mark Nichol

    You’re right. Thanks for pointing out the error.

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