Tag Archives: Comma

Self-Editing Tip #15: Quotation Marks

14 Aug

Quotation Marks

On many people’s list of pet peeves is the misplaced quotation mark. I’m reminded of the episode of Friends where Joey puts air quotes around almost every word because he’s not sure how to use them. It makes for a humorous show, but can really take your credibility down a notch. On a side note, there are slews of people who have a pet peeve about air quotes in general, even when used correctly, but I digress.

Quotation marks in their most common usages 1) set apart dialogue in writing that has speech between characters and 2) distinguish information used verbatim from other sources.

Ex. of dialogue

“Go to time out, John. Is putting your hands on your friends the way you’re supposed to solve an argument?”


“What do you need to do instead?”

“Talk to them or get a teacher…”

Notice when a new speaker takes a turn talking, a new line of text is started and it is indented as if it is a new paragraph (even if it’s just one sentence long).  This rule of dialogue also applies to statements where you might repeat what someone said.

Ex. Did you just say, “I ate cats,” or, “I make hats,” Ken?

Also remember that Standard Written American English requires all commas, question marks, ellipses, etc. that pertain to what the character says go within the quotation marks. Other English-speaking nations put their punctuation outside of the quotation marks. Punctuation that pertains to the sentence as a whole, not the speech taking place, goes outside of the quotation marks (like in the example above).

Ex. of quotation

As a result, the child’s “true identity…remains hidden. This pattern distorts intimate relationships and may continue into adult life” (Schaverien 138).


Schaverien, Joy. “Boarding School Syndrome: Broken Attachments A Hidden Trauma.” British Journal Of Psychotherapy 27.2 (2011): 138-155. Academic Search Complete. Web. 7 May 2013.

In this sentence, the quotation marks surround the text which is borrowed, or quoted, from another source. Because I have taken the phrase verbatim from its original author, a source citation is needed in addition to the quotation marks in order to give credit to that author. When summarizing or paraphrasing from another author (meaning your text is not identical to the original source), no quotation marks are needed around the text, but a citation is still required. Failure to cite that borrowed thoughts are borrowed is plagiarism.

Now, back to Joey and his air quotes. Though he placed his quotes in all the wrong places, the concept he was trying to employ was the use of quotation marks to emphasize irony, sarcasm, the unusual, or the unlikely/unreal.

Ex. That “alien” you thought you saw under your bed was really just a pile of dirty clothes and some scary shadows.

Ex. Yeah, we’re too busy “working” to do that.

So, when Joey said he was, “Sorry,” that implied that he didn’t truly mean it. In the graphic, you can see another example of misplaced quotations that disrupt the meaning (semantics) of a message.  It leads you to question whether they actually DO want people to use the bottled water, and whether it really is coffee they’re making with it or not. Simple lesson to take away from Joey and bad signs everywhere: quotation marks do not increase emphasis on a word, change the intonation when read aloud, or magically make ordinary words titles of objects as in the case of “coffee.”

It’s also necessary to place quotation marks around titles of small works.

DO use quotation marks DON’T use quotation marks
Individual Poems and Short Stories Collections of Poems or Stories/Anthologies
Individual Songs Album/Opera/Musical Composition Title
Short Plays Plays with more than 3 acts
Individual Essays Collections of Essays/ Anthologies
Magazine/Journal/Periodical Articles Newspaper/Magazine/Journal as a whole
Episodes of TV or Radio Show Title of Show/Movie
Theses/Dissertations/Reports Conference Proceedings/Legal Cases
Unpublished Writing
Manuscripts Books
Art Exhibits Work of Art

Chart made based on list by: Robin. “Quotation Marks Rules: Grammar Guide.” Hub Pages. Hub Pages Inc. 2013.

Web. 14 Aug. 2013.

The less common occasion of a quote within a quote is handled with the help of two apostrophes. In this case, the innermost quotation will use an apostrophe at the beginning and end of the quotation and the outermost quote will get the full quotation marks.

Ex. As a courtesan, Angellica Bianca, much “’Like the actress [and] the woman dramatist[,] is sexualized, circulated, [and] denied a subject position.’” For actresses and writers, the ladies are prevented from having that subjectivity “’in the theater hierarchy’” (Elin quoted by Herrin 20).


Herron, Shane Michael. “’Ludicrous Solemnity’: Satire’s Aesthetic Turn.” State University of New York at Buffalo, 2011. United States — New York: ProQuest. Web. 28 May 2013.

In this essay on Aphra Behn’s The Rover, I quoted a source who quoted a source. Because the quote I used was already a quote, I had to make the original quote marks into apostrophes and then add my own quotation marks on the outside of them in order to indicate I was quoting a quote. In the citation, I noted for the reader’s clarity that my source, Herrin, quoted a source, Elin. In the end, I was quoting both of them, so they both needed credit. In a works cited page, only the source you get the quote from needs inclusion (even if it is not the original source of the phrase).

Feel free to contact me with any grammar questions you may have (on this topic or others) using the form. I also take suggestions for future topics you’d like me to cover! Looking forward to hearing from you. Write on!

–Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast



Self-Editing Tip #13: Commas > Clauses

7 Aug

The Comma Continued: Clauses

The last subtopic of commas are clauses. We’ve already discussed how independent clauses need a comma and conjunction, or a semicolon, in order to be joined into one sentence to avoid a comma splice. Dependent clauses also require commas in order to join with a complete sentence. They cannot stand alone because they are not complete sentences, hence the name dependent. They depend on the rest of the sentence to be whole. A dependent clause can be an adverbial, nominal, or adjectival.

  • Adverbial—functions as a modifier of a verb
Purpose of Adverbial Word
Time After, as, as long as, as soon as, before, now, now that, once, since, till, until, when, whenever, while
Concession Although, even though, if, though, while
Contingency If, once
Condition As long as, if, in case, provided that, unless
Reason As long as, because, since
Result So, so that
Comparison As, as if, just as
Contrast Whereas, while
  Source: Kolln, Martha and Loretta Gray. Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects. 6th ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2010. Print.
  • Nominal—Functions like a noun or noun phrase
Type of Nominal Definition
Appositive Renames the subject of the sentence and adds information about it Ex. The car that hit me, the blue Volvo, was totaled.  *Note—sometimes a colon is used to introduce an appositive, but only after a complete independent clause. Ex. I’ll always have a soft spot for my first car: a silver Ford Escort.
Sentence Appositive Renames or condenses the idea of the sentences as a whole into a dependent clause. Unlike other appositives, this kind is punctuated with an Em-Dash.Ex. The movie premiere was packed with A-list stars and busy photographers—a glamorous and expensive affair.
Dangling Gerund When a verb phrase opens the sentence it requires a comma to join it. Ex. To exit the building, take a left at the bottom of the staircase.
  Source: Kolln, Martha and Loretta Gray. Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects. 6th ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2010. Print.
  • Adjectival—Functions as a modifier of a noun
Type of Adjectival Definition
Adjective Phrase When an adjective follows the subject of a sentence, it is set off by commas Ex. The basketball team, tall and lanky, practiced endlessly.
Moveable Participle When an adjectival phrase is moved to the beginning of a sentence in order to modify the subject, it is set off by a comma Ex. Hurrying in the morning, I tried my best to leave on time. Because it is a moveable participle, the phrase can also come at the end of a sentence, also set off by a comma. Ex. I tried my best to leave on time, hurrying in the morning.
  *Note—A participle refers to both the present and past forms of a verb when functioning as adjectivals. Present Pariciple= the –ing (gerund) form of a verb  Past Participle=the form of the verb used with “have” to form active voice and “be” to form passive voice
  Source: Kolln, Martha and Loretta Gray. “Coordination and Subordination.” Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects. 6th ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2010. Print.

Self-Editing Tip #12: Commas > Series and Lists

6 Aug

The Comma Continued: Series and Lists

Commas are used in series to join three or more words, phrases, or clauses.

Ex. While on the playground, the girls used the slide, the boys used the swings, and the teachers chatted.

This is different than a list because the series becomes part of one complete sentence rather than an add-on to a sentence. In a list, commas are used to separate multiple words, phrases, or clauses which have been set apart by a colon (:).

Ex. The following ingredients are needed for our cake recipe: flour, baking soda, eggs, sugar, vanilla, butter, and salt.

Shown above is a simple example of a list of individual words. When listing phrases, clauses, or complete sentences, especially those containing commas, it is important to use semi-colons (;) in place of commas to differentiate between each list item.

Ex. To make a cake, complete the following steps: cream butter, sugar, vanilla, and eggs; mix flour, salt, and baking soda in separate bowl; while stirring wet ingredients, mix dry ingredients into batter little by little.

In both series and lists, there are opportunities to use or forgo what is called the Oxford Comma (or serial comma). This is the comma before the “and” which precedes the last item in a list or series.

Ex. For breakfast, I ate bacon, eggs, and orange juice.

Consider what the sentence would really mean if the Oxford Comma was removed.

Ex. For breakfast, I ate bacon, eggs and orange juice.

The debate on which form is correct, whether the semantics of the sentence are truly changed by this comma or not, and if the Oxford Comma will ever go away is a heated one. Many newspapers no longer use the Oxford Comma. Titles like The Economist, USA TODAY, even Oxford University’s own style book no longer use this punctuation. However, the Associated Press’ most current AP Handbook release still does not end this debate. Most writers outside of the UK, Australia, (if I’ve left out a country, add to this list in the comments section) and those in the newspaper industry, continue to punctuate in this manner. It is a personal choice. I strongly believe in the Oxford Comma. Decide what it means to you—a sensible breakfast or talking to your breakfast about breakfast?

Self-Editing Tip #2: Comma Splice

2 Jul

The Comma Splice—Basically stated, a comma splice is any instance where a comma is placed between two independent clauses without a conjunction to accompany it.

Ex. We were going to lie on the beach today, it rained, we couldn’t go.

Imagine a period at the end of clause 1 in place of the comma. Does it work as a stand-alone sentence? Asking this question is usually a good way to test a clause to see if it is a complete sentence. Do the same with clause 2 and 3.

I’ve used a lengthy compound sentence in this example to show that sentences with comma splices are different than a list. The example above is not a list of events. Each clause functions as a complete sentence when separated from the comma and other portion of the sentence. This means there is a comma splice.

There are two options for fixing comma splices.

In order to leave the comma, a conjunction must be added.

Ex. We were going to lie on the beach today, but it rained, and we couldn’t go.

In order to leave out the conjunctions, a semicolon must be added in place of the comma.

Ex. We were going to lie on the beach today; it rained; we couldn’t go.

Now, the example above is not the most conventional use of the semicolon. You generally find them in compound sentences with two clauses. However, there is no rule about using them as shown, especially if the goal is to set your writing apart stylistically.

For examples of (almost excessive, but effective) stylistic use of the semicolon and comma, check out Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Sunflower Sutra.” For more specific discussion about comma splices, semicolons, and other grammar concepts, I recommend Martha Kolln and Loretta Gray’s book Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects (6th or 7th edition).

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