H.W. Fowler (1858–1933). The
King’s English, 2nd ed. 1908.
Chapter IV. Punctuation
marks, like hyphens, should be used
only when necessary. The degree of necessity will vary slightly with the
mental state of the audience for whom a book is intended. To an educated
man it is an annoyance to find his author warning him that something
written long ago, and quoted every day almost ever since, is not an
original remark now first struck out. On the other hand, writers who
address the uneducated may find their account in using all the quotation
marks they can; their readers may be gratified by seeing how well read
the author is, or may think quotation marks decorative. The following
examples start with the least justifiable uses, and stop at the point
where quotation marks become more or less necessary.
John Smith, Esq., 'Chatsworth', Melton Road, Leamington.
The implication seems to be: living in the house that sensible people
call 164 Melton Road, but one fool likes to call Chatsworth.
How is it that during the year in which that scheme has been, so to
speak, 'in the pillory', no alternative has, at any rate, been made
Every metaphor ought to be treated as a quotation, if in the pillory
is to be. Here, moreover, quotation marks are a practical tautology,
after so to speak.
Robert Brown and William Marshall, convicted of robbery with violence,
were sentenced respectively to five years' penal servitude and
eighteen strokes with the 'cat', and seven years' penal servitude.—Times.
There is by this time no danger whatever of confusion with the cat of
...not forgetful of how soon 'things Japanese' would be things of the
past for her.—Sladen.
This may be called the propitiatory use, analogous in print to the
tentative air with which, in conversation, the Englishman not sure of
his pronunciation offers a French word. So trifling a phrase is not
worth using at the cost of quotation marks. If it could pass without,
well and good.
So that the prince and I were able to avoid that 'familiarity that
breeds contempt' by keeping up our own separate establishments.—Corelli.
With a difference (Ophelia:
...the Rector, lineal representative of the ancient monarchs of the
University, though now, little more than a 'king of shreds and
We agree pretty well in our tastes and habits—yet so, as 'with a
O, you must wear your rue with a
difference) might escape notice as a quotation if attention were not
drawn to it. A reader fit to appreciate Lamb, however, could scarcely
fail to be sufficiently warned by the odd turn of the preceding words.
question of some importance to writers who trouble themselves
about accuracy, though no doubt the average reader is profoundly
indifferent, is that of the right order as between quotation marks and
stops. Besides the conflict in which we shall again find ourselves with
the aesthetic compositor, it is really difficult to arrive at a
completely logical system. Before laying down what seems the best
attainable, we must warn the reader that it is not the system now in
fashion; but there are signs that printers are feeling their way towards
better things, and this is an attempt to anticipate what they will
ultimately come to. We shall make one or two postulates, deduce rules,
and give examples. After the examples (in order that readers who are
content either to go on with the present compromise or to accept our
rules may be able to skip the discussion), we shall consider some
No stop is ever required at the end of a quotation to separate the
quotation, as such, from what follows; that is sufficiently done by the
A stop is required to separate the containing sentence, which may go on
beyond the quotation's end, but more commonly does not, from what
An exclamation or question mark—which are not true stops, but tone
symbols—may be an essential part of the quotation.
When a quotation is broken by such insertions as he said,
stop or tone symbol may be an essential part of the first fragment of
No stop is needed at either end of such insertions as he said
part them from the quotation, that being sufficiently done by the
From these considerations we deduce the following rules:
Words that interrupt quotations should never be allowed stops to
part them from the quotation.
- The true stops should never stand before the second quotation mark
when, as in dialogue given without framework, complete
sentences entirely isolated and independent in grammar are printed
as quotations. Even in these, it must be mentioned that the true
stops are strictly unnecessary; but if the full stop (which alone
can here be in question) is used in deference to universal custom,
it should be before the quotation mark.
when a stop is necessary to divide the first fragment of
an interrupted quotation from the second.
The tone symbols should be placed before or after the second
quotation mark according as they belong to the quotation or to the
containing sentence. If both quotation and containing sentence need
a tone symbol, both should be used, with the quotation mark between
The bracketed numbers before the examples repeat the numbers of the
(1) Views advocated by Dr. Whately in his well-known 'Essays';
It is enough for us to reflect that 'Such shortlived wits do
wither as they grow'.
We hear that 'whom the gods love die young', and thenceforth we
collect the cases that illustrate it.
(1 a) 'You are breaking the rules.' 'Well, the rules are
(1 b) 'Certainly not;' he exclaimed 'I would have died
(2) 'I cannot guess' he retorted 'what you mean'.
(3) But 'why drag in Velasquez?'
But what is the use of saying 'Call no man happy till he dies'?
Is the question 'Where was he?' or 'What was he doing?'?
How absurd to ask 'Can a thing both be and not be?'!
If indignation is excited by the last two monstrosities, we can only
say what has been implied many other times in this book, that the
right substitute for correct ugliness is not incorrect prettiness,
but correct prettiness. There is never any difficulty in rewriting
sentences like these. (Is the question where he was, &c.?) ('Can
a thing both be and not be?' The question is absurd.) But it should
be recognized that, if such sentences are to be written, there is
only one way to punctuate them.
It may be of interest to show how these sentences stand in the
books. 1st sentence ('Essays;'); and (grow.'); 3rd (young,'); 4th,
as here; 5th (not,' he exclaimed;) (rather.'); 6th (guess,' he
retorted,) (mean.'); 7th (Velasquez'?); 8th (saying,) (dies?'). The
last two are fabricated.
The objections may now be considered.
'The passing crowd' is a phrase coined in the spirit of indifference.
Yet, to a man of what Plato calls 'universal sympathies,' and even to
the plain, ordinary denizens of this world, what can be more
interesting than 'the passing crowd'?—B.
After giving this example, Beadnell says:—'The reason is clear: the
words quoted are those of another, but the question
writer's own. Nevertheless, for the sake of neatness, the ordinary
points, such as the comma, semicolon, colon, and full stop, precede
the quotation marks in instances analogous to the one quoted; but the
exclamation follows the same rule as the interrogation'.
Singularly enough, the stops that are according to this always to
precede the quotation mark (for the 'analogous cases' are the only cases
in which the outside position would be so much as considered) are just
the ones that by our rules ought hardly ever to do so, whereas the two
that are sometimes allowed the outside position are the two that we
admit to be as often necessary inside as outside. Neatness is the sole
consideration; just as the ears may be regarded as not hearing organs,
but 'handsome volutes of the human capital', so quotation marks may be
welcomed as giving a good picturesque finish to a sentence; those who
are of this way of thinking must feel that, if they allowed outside them
anything short of fine handsome stops like the exclamation and question
marks, they would be countenancing an anticlimax. But they are really
mere conservatives, masquerading only as aesthetes; and their
conservatism will soon have to yield. Argument on the subject is
impossible; it is only a question whether the printer's love for the old
ways that seem to him so neat, or the writer's and reader's desire to be
understood and to understand fully, is to prevail.
Another objector takes a stronger position. He admits that logic, and
not beauty, must decide: 'but before we give up the old, let us be sure
we are giving it up for a new that is logical'. He invites our attention
to the recent paragraph containing Beadnell's views. 'Why, in the last
sentence of that paragraph, is the full stop outside? "But the
exclamation follows the same rule as the interrogation" is a
complete sentence, quoted; why should its full stop be separated from
it?' The answer is that the full stop is not its
full stop; it
needs no stop, having its communications forward absolutely cut off by
the quotation mark. It is a delusion to suppose that any sentence has
proprietary rights in a stop, though it may have in a tone symbol; a
stop is placed after it merely to separate it from what follows, if
necessary.—'And the full stop after every last sentence (not a
question or exclamation) of a paragraph, chapter, or book?'—Is
illogical, and only to be allowed, like those in the isolated quotations
mentioned in rule (1 a)
, in deference to universal custom. Our
full stop belongs, not to the last sentence of the quotation, but to the
paragraph, which is all one sentence, the whole quotation simply playing
the part, helped by the quotation marks, of object to says.—
is followed by a colon, and a colon between verb and object
breaks your own rules.'—No; (:—) is something different from a stop;
it is an extra quotation mark, as much a conventional symbol as the full
stop in M.A. and other abbreviations.—'Well, then, instead of says,
to which the quotation clearly cannot be object;
will that affect our full stop?'—No; the quotation will still be part
of the sentence; not indeed a noun, as before, and object to the verb;
but an adverb, simply equivalent to thus,
attached to the verb.
Satisfied on that point, the objector takes up our statement that the
quotation mark cuts communications; a similar statement was made in the Dashes
section about brackets and double dashes. He submits a quotation:—Some
people 'grunt and sweat under' very easy burdens indeed; and a pair of
brackets:—It is (not a little learning, but) much conceit that is a
dangerous thing. 'It is surely not true that either quotation mark or
bracket cuts the communications there; under
in the quotation, but
in the brackets, are in very active communication with burdens
outside.' The answer is that these are merely
convenient misuses of quotation marks and brackets. A quotation and a
parenthesis should be complete in themselves, and instances that are not
so may be neglected in arguing out principles. Special rules might
indeed be required in consequence for the abnormal cases; but in
practice this is not so with quotations.—'A last point. To adapt one
of your instances, here are two sets of sentences, stopped as I gather
you would stop them:—(1) He asked me "Can a thing both be and not
be?" The question is absurd. (2) He said "A thing cannot both
be and not be". I at once agreed. Now, if the full stop is required
after the quotation mark in the second, it must be required after that
in the first, in each case to part, not the quotation, but the
containing sentence, from the next sentence. What right have you to omit
the full stop in the first?'—None whatever; it will not be
omitted.—'So we have an addition of some importance to the
monstrosities you said we should have to avoid.'—Well, sentences of
this type are not common except in a style of affected simplicity.—'Or
real simplicity. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas,
lovest thou me? And is there any particular simplicity, real or
affected, about this:—(Richmond looked at him with an odd smile for a
moment or two before asking, as if it were the most natural question in
the world, "But is it true?".)?'—In the Bible quotation
there is, as you say, real simplicity—or rather there was. That sort
of simplicity now would not be real, but artificial. Any one who has
good reason to imitate primitive style may imitate primitive punctuation
too. But one step forward in precision we have definitely taken from the
biblical typography: we should insist on quotation marks in such a
sentence. They do not seem pedantic or needless now; nor will a further
step in precision seem so when once it has been taken. And as to your
Richmond sentence, and 'monstrosities' in general, it may be confessed
here, as we are out of hearing in this discussion of all but those who
are really interested, that the word was used for the benefit only of
those who are indifferent. A sentence with two stops is not a
monstrosity, if it wants them; and that will be realized, if once
sensible punctuation gets the upper hand of neatness.
These are the most plausible objections on principle to a system of
using quotation marks with stops that would be in the main logical. It
may be thought, however, that it was our business to be practical and
opportunist, and suggest nothing that could not be acted on at once. But
general usage, besides being illogical, is so inconsistent, different
writers improving upon it in special details that appeal to them, that
it seemed simpler to give our idea of what would be the best attainable,
and trust to the tiro's adopting any parts of it that may not frighten
him by their unaccustomed look.
are single and double quotation marks, and, apart from minor
peculiarities, two ways of utilizing the variety. The prevailing one is
to use double marks for most purposes, and single ones for quotations
within quotations, as:—"Well, so he said to me 'What do you mean
by it?' and I said 'I didn't mean anything'". Some of those who
follow this system also use the single marks for isolated words, short
phrases, and anything that can hardly be called a formal quotation; this
avoids giving much emphasis to such expressions, which is an advantage.
The more logical method is that adopted, for instance, by the Oxford
University Press, of reserving the double marks exclusively for
quotations within quotations. Besides the loss of the useful degrees in
emphasis (sure, however, to be inconsistently utilized), there is a
certain lack of full-dress effect about important quotations when given
this way; but that is probably a mere matter of habituation. It should
be mentioned that most of the quoted quotations in this section had
originally the double marks, but have been altered to suit the more
logical method; and the unpleasantness of the needless quotation marks
with which we started has so been slightly toned down.
common mistake, of no great importance, but resulting in more or
less discomfort or perplexity to the reader, is the placing of the first
quotation mark earlier than the place where quotation really begins. The
commonest form of it is the including of the quoter's introductory that,
which it is often obvious that the original did not contain. Generally
speaking, if that
is used the quotation marks may be dispensed
with; not, however, if the exact phraseology is important; but at least
the mark should be in the right place.
I remember an old scholastic aphorism, which says, 'that the man who
lives wholly detached from others, must be either an angel or a
As the aphorism descends through Latin from Aristotle ([Greek]), the
precise English words are of no importance, and the quotation marks
might as well be away; at least the first should be after that.
Then, with 'a sarvant, sir' to me, he took himself into the
is not included in the quotation.
They make it perfectly clear and plain, he informed the House, that
'Sir Antony MacDonnell was invited by him, rather as a colleague than
as a mere Under-Secretary, to register my will.'—Times.
The change from him
would be quite legitimate if the
first quotation mark stood before rather
instead of where it
does; as it stands, it is absurd.
It is long since he partook of the Holy Communion, though there was an
Easterday, of which he writes, when 'he might have remained quietly in
(his) corner during the office, if...'.—Times.
is evidently bracketed to show that it is substituted
for the original writer's my.
This is very conscientious; but it
follows that either the same should have been done for he,
quotation mark should be after he.
began this section by saying that quotation marks should be used
only when necessary. A question that affects the decision to some extent
is the difference between direct, indirect, and half-and-half quotation.
We can say (1) He said 'I will go'. (2) He said he would go. (3) He said
'he would go'. The first variety is often necessary for the sake of
vividness. The third is occasionally justified when, though there is no
occasion for vividness, there is some turn of phrase that it is
important for the reader to recognize as actually originating, not with
the writer, but with the person quoted; otherwise, that variety is to be
carefully avoided; how disagreeable it is will appear in the example
below. For ordinary purposes the second variety, which involves no
quotation marks, is the best.
He then followed my example, declared he never felt more refreshed in
his life, and, giving a bound, said, 'he would go and look after his
Further, there may be quotation, not of other people's words, but of
one's own thoughts. In this case the method prevailing at present is
that exemplified in the Times
extract below. Taken by itself,
there is no objection to it. We point out, however, that it is
irreconcilable with the principles explained in this section, which
demand the addition of a full stop (derived?.). That would be a worse
monstrosity than the one in the first of the three legitimate
alternatives that we add. We recommend that the Times
should be abandoned, and the first or second of the others used
according to circumstances.
The next question is, Whence is this income derived?—Times.
The next question is 'Whence is this income derived?'. (Full direct
quotation. Observe the 'monstrosity' stop)
The next question is whence this income is derived. (Indirect
The next question is 'Whence this income is derived'. (Indirect
quotation with quotation marks, or half-and-half quotation, like the
In concluding the chapter on Punctuation we may make the general remark
that the effect of our recommendations, whether advocating as in the
last section more strictness, or as in other parts more liberty, would
be, certainly, a considerable reduction in the number of diacritical
marks cutting up and disfiguring the text; and, as we think, a practice
in most respects more logical and comprehensible.