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Combining Quotation Marks, Question Marks, AND Commas (Whew!)

By
Mignon Fogarty,

 

In the United States, we always put periods and commas inside quotation marks, but twice in the last week I've seen writers break this rule when confronted with a quotation that ended with a question mark and also needed a comma after it to make the whole sentence work. Here's an example from this week's Grammar Girl podcast and article about Christmas carols:

The Christmas carol we're going to tackle today is "What Child Is This?", written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix.

Omit the Comma Before an Attribution

Although it's not exactly the same situation, the AP Stylebook says that when you'd put a comma at the end of a quotation before the attribution, but the quotation ends in a question mark, you should omit the comma. ("Merry Christmas," Squiggly said. "How many days until Christmas?" Aardvark asked.)

Keep the Comma After a Title

The Chicago Manual of Style editors make a similar recommendation for attributions, but take a new stance on titles in their newest edition (16th edition, section 6.119): they recommend keeping the comma when a title ends with a question mark or exclamation point, as in the example above from the Grammar Girl podcast. Therefore, according to Chicago, which addresses the question most directly, the best way to write the sentence is as follows:

The Christmas carol we're going to tackle today is "What Child Is This?," written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix.

 

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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