Answers to Questions About Punctuation #3

By Mark Nichol

Here are a few questions from DailyWritingTips.com readers about various punctuation issues, followed by my responses.

1. A lawyer asks a witness about a quoted statement made to the witness by another person, such as “Did she tell you, ‘I have to call the authorities, you’re going back. Stay right here.” Should there be a question mark after the closing quotation mark?

The framing sentence — the one in which the quotation is framed, is a question, so the terminal punctuation should be a question mark. However, the division of the quotation into two sentences, with a period intervening, is awkward, because that terminal punctuation interferes with the role of the question mark. (The first sentence also includes a comma splice, in which two independent clauses are erroneously separated by a comma rather than a stronger punctuation mark such as a semicolon.)

Here’s my solution: “Did she tell you, ‘I have to call the authorities; you’re going back — stay right here’?”

2. Is the following quotation punctuated correctly?

“Do you think she has the nerve to tell him, ‘You are a terrible man.’?”

I think I recall a rule that you can’t have two kinds of punctuation at the end of a quote, but how else can it be done?

The question mark preempts the period: “Do you think she has the nerve to tell him, ‘You are a terrible man’?”

3. Is it still correct to place a semicolon before however and a comma after it?

Yes. Here’s a post on the topic.

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1 Response to “Answers to Questions About Punctuation #3”

  • Matt Gaffney

    All the examples are absolutely correct. Few writers would have written them correctly. Well done.

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