punctuating quote marks within quote marks

Friday, May 15, 2009

"Ask yourself 'how' rather than 'why'."

What's wrong with it?

Punctuation. If you're asking yourself a question, you should punctuate it as such--which also means you need proper placement of your punctuation marks.

How do you fix it?

Since you're asking yourself a question, you need to format the question like you would any other statement, which usually means you put a comma in front of the spoken text, capitalize the first word, and, since it's a question, end it with a question mark.

That part's easy enough, but what about the period following "why"?

Since "why" gets a question mark, that's all the punctuation we need to end the sentence, but suppose it didn't end on a question: Would the period still go between the single quote mark and the double quote mark?

Nope. Logically it may make sense (though the most sensible place to put the period would be outside the double quote mark), but we do things strangely in America, at least when it comes to punctuation, so, as the style guide says:

When both single and double quotation marks occur at the end of a sentence, the period falls within both sets of marks.

Correct sentence:

"Ask yourself, 'How?' rather than, 'Why?'"