3 Cases of Erroneous Punctuation with Quotations

By Mark Nichol

In each of the following sentences, punctuation associated with a quoted phrase or a partial or full quotation is not appropriate. Discussion after each example explains why the punctuation should either be changed or omitted altogether, and one or more revisions illustrate correct treatment of the quoted material.

1. The old saying, “What gets rewarded gets done,” is as true with risk management as with any other business process.

The phrase “the old saying” should not be treated restrictively—“What gets rewarded gets done” is not the only old saying; it is being described as an old saying—so omit punctuation between the phrase and the saying itself: “The old saying ‘What gets rewarded gets done’ is as true with risk management as with any other business process.”

2. The company responded in a statement Friday that the newspaper article showed, “a complete disregard for basic journalistic standards.”

Because the partial quotation complements the attribution to complete a sentence that requires no internal punctuation, do not use such punctuation to separate the attribution and the quotation: “The company responded in a statement Friday that the newspaper article showed ‘a complete disregard for basic journalistic standards.’”

3. “I would like to do a college fund for him, it’s not the kid’s fault,” he said.

Regardless of whether such a sentence is a quotation or not, the use of a mere comma to separate two independence clauses without the support of a conjunction is incorrect: “’I would like to do a college fund for him; it’s not the kid’s fault,’ he said.”

However, using a semicolon in a quotation has always seemed stiffly formal to me; simply as a personal preference, I would use a more dashing punctuation mark: “’I would like to do a college fund for him—it’s not the kid’s fault,’ he said.” Another alternative is to insert the attribution between the two clauses, treating them as separate sentences: “‘I would like to do a college fund for him,’ he said. ‘It’s not the kid’s fault.’”

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