- On October 1, 2014
A reader challenged my placement of a question mark outside a quotation mark.
“I don’t think that’s correct,” he wrote. “Always inside, that’s what the nuns taught.”
The source of debate appeared in the following sentence—part of a discussion in which I was clarifying when to use me instead of I.
If you dropped Ted, would you say, “Please tell I when we can schedule the meeting”?
Dear reader, the nuns weren’t right about this one. Here’s why:
If the entire sentence is a question, as is the case above, the question mark goes outside the quotation mark. If the quoted matter is a question, as in, “Can we schedule the meeting?” she asked, the question mark goes inside.
While I’m on the subject of inside-outside punctuation, I’ll share this line, with its three misplaced commas (bolded so you can see which ones I’m talking about). It came in this week’s electronic mail.
Her latest book, “A Winner’s Guide to Negotiating: How Conversation Gets Deals Done”, was just released last week. Her other books include “The 5 Best Tools to Find Your Dream Career”, a tactical guide to becoming your own career agent, and “The Business of Being the Best”, in which she extracts the common traits found in top performers.
Those three commas belong inside the quotation marks. In the United States, commas always go inside the quoted matter, even if they’re not part of the quoted material. In the U.K., however, commas (and periods) go outside the quoted matter.