3 Cases of Intrusive Punctuation Before a Quotation
When an introductory or attributive phrase ending in a verb precedes one or more complete sentences enclosed in quotation marks to express something written or said, a comma separates the phrase from the quotation—for example, “The conventional wisdom is, ‘Trust, but verify,’” or “I replied, ‘Go for it.’” But if the quotation is incomplete or is complete but is incorporated into the syntactical flow of the sentence, generally, no punctuation should intervene, as explained in the discussions and shown in the revisions following each example below.
1. The reporter who wrote both articles said that, “the company never asked for a correction.”
When a sentence ends in a partial quotation and is syntactically structured so that the quotation is grammatically integrated into the sentence, no intervening punctuation (and no initial capitalization) is necessary: “The reporter who wrote both articles said that ‘the company never asked for a correction.’” (Alternatively, the sentence can be revised to consist of an attributive phrase followed by a quotation consisting of one or more complete sentences: The reporter who wrote both articles said, “The company never asked for a correction.”)
An exception to the no-punctuation rule is if the punctuation is grammatically required—for example, because of an intervening parenthesis, as in “The reporter who wrote both articles said that, as far as he knows, ‘the company never asked for a correction.’” (In this case, the implied quotation, though the person of course did not literally say “as far as he knows,” starts with that phrase.)
2. The magazine famously dubbed the 2003 flick, “The Citizen Kane of bad movies.”
The phrase preceding the quotation is not attributive, and as in the previous example, the entire sentence constitutes a grammatically complete statement, so the comma is intrusive: “The magazine famously dubbed the 2003 flick “the Citizen Kane of bad movies.” (Again, note that because the quotation is a partial sentence, the first word should not be capitalized.)
3. Such cases leave us shaking our heads and asking the rhetorical question, “What were they thinking?”
This sentence suffers from the same obstructive punctuation, with the additional fault of implying, by setting “rhetorical question” off from the question with a comma, that the sentence is restrictive—that the question is not a rhetorical question but the rhetorical question: “Such cases leave us shaking our heads and asking the rhetorical question ‘What were they thinking?’” (Alternatively, simply omit the extraneous phrase and write, “Such cases leave us shaking our heads and asking, ‘What were they thinking?’”)
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