Simple as it may seem, dealing with the rules that govern the use of punctuation can be as stressful and taxing as mountain climbing in the dark.
Mountain climbing is already a difficult adventure in the daytime. How much more if it is done at night?
Unexpected twists and turns and sudden changes in the terrain are just a few surprises that can turn you off the track.
This is how it goes when using commas with quotes – a lot could go wrong.
But don’t worry. This study will take you beyond the next hill. Ready now? Let’s get it on.
When do we need to use commas with quotes?
Commas are always used with quotes when they come with reporting clauses such as “he said” and “she said.” A reporting clause that comes before the quote calls for a comma before the opening quotation mark. In other cases, the comma goes inside the quote in American English and outside in British.
Commas and quoted statements
A comma is defined as a punctuation mark used especially to separate items within a sentence. We might as well call it a separation marker.
Yet, this tiny mark had caused a lot of confusion and bewilderment among teachers and students ever since it had been used in the 1500s.
Have you heard about the ultimate comma cheat sheet that should make your life less nerve-racking?
This one-stop guide lays out the fundamentals of comma usage that can help you write more like a pro and less like an amateur.
Other teachers taught their students to use a comma whenever a pause is needed when they speak. Very specific, aren’t they?
To make things easier to digest, today’s post focuses only on the use of commas with quoted statements.
A quote or quotation is that part of a sentence that is introduced by a pair of speech marks.
Most of the time, that quote can be a passage being referred to or adduced. Quotation marks are used to show clarity and emphasis.
A quoted speech also usually comes with a reporting or attributive clause, which can appear before or after the quoted remark.
The reporting clause helps in clarifying the source of the information being quoted, such as “Cindy said” or “said Mark.”
The position of the comma in a quoted sentence almost always presents a problem even though quotation marks have been in use since the 1600s.
Quotation marks are often used to present that something is spoken by another person. That piece of information is also called direct speech in English.
In other words, a direct speech that is marked by quotation marks is recorded word for word.
At other times, writers also use quotation marks to emphasize a word or phrase to display sarcasm or irony.
Referred words, such as those that are being given some definition, may also be enclosed with quotation marks.
When and where commas go with quotes
Deciding where to exactly place commas with quotes largely depends on language conventions.
While the comma goes inside the quoted speech in American English, the comma goes outside for British English users.
Commas go inside quotes (American English)
In the realm of American English, conventions show that a comma must always be used inside quotation marks.
This comma rule is followed by several style guides like the Associated Press, the Chicago Manual of Style, and the Modern Language Association.
(incorrect AmE) “I’ll get along with you later”, said Amanda.
(incorrect AmE) “Cheese is so good; I can have it all day”, Cindy said.
Meanwhile, the comma always goes immediately after the reporting clause when it comes before the direct speech.
This rule is consistent in both American and British Englishes. By the way, the first letter of the quoted remark’s first word should be in upper case.
(incorrect AmE) Jim asked “, Who took the chocolates?”
(incorrect AmE) Someone shouted “, Look down below!”
Whenever the quoted speech is cut off midway, the comma also goes inside the quote, particularly in the first half of the quoted remark.
Take note that the second half of the quoted speech should start with a lowercase because it simply continues the first remark.
(incorrect AmE) “Loud noise”, Blake said, “already annoys me.”
(incorrect AmE) “Put the briefcase”, he said, “ inside the car.”
Take note, though, that the comma goes outside the opening quotation mark in the second half of the quote in both American and British Englishes.
In other words, the second comma goes right after the reporting clause “Blake said” and not right before “already.”
Commas go outside quotes (British English)
In England and the UK, however, it is a bit trickier because the rule being followed is dependent on some factors.
As a rule of thumb, commas are placed outside quotation marks in British English, as well as periods or full stops.
This means that the comma goes after the quotation when it comes before the reporting clause.
(incorrect BrE) “This way,” Anna whispered.
(incorrect BrE) “Too far,” Ronnie said.
Like in American English, the comma also goes right after the reporting clause and not after the opening quotation mark in an inverted structure.
Remember to capitalize the first letter of the first word in the quoted speech as it is considered a separate idea.
(incorrect BrE) Glen silently thought “, Who could have done this?”
(incorrect BrE) The detective said “, I am sure who the perpetrator is.”
Whenever the quoted speech is cut off midway, the comma goes outside the closing quotation mark in the first half of the speech for British English users.
The first letter in the second half of the quote, this time, should be written in lowercase because it is just a continuation of the first remark.
(incorrect BrE) “That child,” Andrew said, “will have a bright future.”
(incorrect BrE) “Please,” he begged, “can’t we just talk about it?”
Again, bear in mind that the comma goes right after the reporting clause “Andrew said,” which is outside the opening quotation mark in the latter part of the speech.
When no commas are needed with quotes
Unnecessary commas derail readers from the point that the writer wants to make. This just means that using commas needs a lot of effort and attention.
The general rule is, if a quoted material or dialogue is included, then a comma must be used unless it flows seamlessly into the sentence.
In other words, the commas should be dropped if and when the quoted words or phrases can be treated as part of the sentence.
This technique is often done to suggest sarcasm, irony, or any form of emphasis or clarity in writing.
He also said that “progress and development shall continue.”
She said that “she would be a couple of minutes late today” to her class.
The sentences in these cases will still be considered syntactically correct even without the quotation marks.
In case “syntax” is not your cup of tea, our previous post covering an all-in-one beginner’s guide to syntax might be of help.
And by the way, there is a significant difference between grammar and syntax in the world of language studies.
While “grammar” is an all-encompassing term, “syntax” is a more specific branch that deals with word order and sentence structure.
Figuring this out in more detail should get rid of many confusing terms and concepts that would also improve punctuation usage.
The quotation marks used in the last few examples are just added to show that the remark was a direct quote.
To make things easier, more often than not, the quoted remark that is syntactically part of the sentence will be preceded by the conjunction “that.”
In other cases, when the quoted material does not fit seamlessly into the sentence, then a comma must be used before opening quotation marks.
The doctor asked the patient, “Are you alright?”
Mother yelled at me cheerfully, “Are you coming back soon?”
Frequently Asked Questions in “Commas with Quotes”
When should we use a comma after a quote?
A comma is used after a quote when it is followed by a reporting clause. The comma goes before the closing quotation mark in American English, while it goes after it in British English.
When should we use a comma before a quote?
A comma is used before a quote when the reporting or introductory clause comes before it. The comma always comes before the opening quotation mark for both American and British Englishes.
Does the comma go outside or inside quotes?
For American English users, the comma goes inside the quoted speech, word, or phrase. For British English users, the comma goes outside the quoted speech.
Written conventions that were invented and developed through time were designed so to make texts readable and teachable, as well.
Despite this, no absolute monarch has the sole authority to govern how a certain language needs to be used. Not even in English.
So it is natural to see differences and similarities in the rules between British and American English.
We only have to familiarize ourselves with these rules and live in peace among them.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.