Punctuation Quiz #6: Partial Quotations

By Mark Nichol

All but one of the following sentences demonstrate incorrect style for partial quotations in American English; revise the sentences as necessary:

1. His comment left me wondering whether I’d be “invited to resign”, as he had put it.

2. Although Smith agreed with the assessment, he added, “We resent the tone.”

3. It’s difficult to say it will work, Jones agreed, “But I haven’t heard any better ideas.”

4. Jane said that she would prefer to do some “light reading.”

5. “Never have I seen a better display,” was his welcome comment.

Answers and Explanations

A partial quotation is one that does not constitute a complete thought or is a complete thought has been incorporated into a framing sentence. Capitalization and punctuation depend on circumstances, as shown in these examples.

1.
Original: His comment left me wondering whether I’d be “invited to resign”, as he had put it.
Correct : His comment left me wondering whether I’d be “invited to resign,” as he had put it.

A comma never follows a quotation mark.

2.
Original: Although Smith agreed with the assessment, he added, “We resent the tone.”
Correct : Although Smith agreed with the assessment, he added, “We resent the tone.”

A subordinate clause has been attached to this attribution and quotation, but the statement remains a complete thought. This is not a partial quotation, so the sentence is correct.

3.
Original: It’s difficult to say it will work, Jones agreed, “But I haven’t heard any better ideas.”
Correct : It’s difficult to say it will work, Jones agreed, “but I haven’t heard any better ideas.”

In this case, in contrast to the previous example, the quoted material, though it might have been uttered as a complete thought, has been attached to a paraphrase, rendering it a partial quotation.

4.
Original: Jane said that she would prefer to do some “light reading.”
Correct : Jane said that she would prefer to do some light reading.

Jane may have used the words “light reading” in her comment, but it’s not necessary, when paraphrasing, to retain quotation marks around a fragment of the comment actually uttered or written unless the wording is notable.

5.
Original: “Never have I seen a better display,” was his welcome comment.
Correct : “Never have I seen a better display” was his welcome comment.

There’s no reason to insert a comma between the quote and this style of attribution, because the quote constitutes the subject, followed by the verb and the rest of the predicate.

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4 Responses to “Punctuation Quiz #6: Partial Quotations”

  • Eric T. MacKnight

    (re #1) Working in British international schools introduced me to the logic of British usage in such cases: if the punctuation is part of the quotation it goes inside the quotation mark; if not, it goes outside. American usage, by comparison, is arbitrary and illogical.

  • Anthony Connolly

    Eric:
    “Arbitrary and illogical”
    Welcome to the English language as we know it.

  • venqax

    Kind of like calling something you eat “spotted dick.” At least I hope it’s arbitrary.

  • thebluebird11

    @venqax: LMAO! First time I heard that I was like, for real?? And while you’re at it, cock soup. “Thanks; I’ll pass,” she said, correctly punctuating her words.

    Canadians also do weird stuff with punctuation marks in/out of quotation marks. Can’t retrain them…oh well LOL

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