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H.W. Fowler (1858–1933). The King’s English, 2nd ed. 1908.

Chapter IV. Punctuation


QUOTATION 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 public?—Times.
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 one tail.
…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. …the Rector, lineal representative of the ancient monarchs of the University, though now, little more than a ‘king of shreds and patches’.—Huxley. We agree pretty well in our tastes and habits—yet so, as ‘with a difference’.—Lamb.
With a difference (Ophelia: 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. A 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 possible objections. 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 quotation mark. 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 follows. 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, any stop or tone symbol may be an essential part of the first fragment of quotation. No stop is needed at either end of such insertions as he said to part them from the quotation, that being sufficiently done by the quotation marks. From these considerations we deduce the following rules:
  1. The true stops should never stand before the second quotation mark except 
    1. 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. 
    2. when a stop is necessary to divide the first fragment of an interrupted quotation from the second.
  2. Words that interrupt quotations should never be allowed stops to part them from the quotation.
  3. 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 them.The bracketed numbers before the examples repeat the numbers of the rules.
    (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 silly.’ (1 b) ‘Certainly not;’ he exclaimed ‘I would have died rather’. (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 is the 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.—‘But 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, read continues, 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 and conceit, 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. There 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. A 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 devil.’—Burke.
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 kitchen.—Borrow.
Clearly a 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 to my 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.
The (his) 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, or the quotation mark should be after he. We 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 horses.’—Borrow.
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 method 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 quotation) The next question is ‘Whence this income is derived’. (Indirect quotation with quotation marks, or half-and-half quotation, like the Borrow sentence)
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.