Everywhere I look lately, I am seeing punctuation, specifically the comma, outside of quotation marks. Okay, maybe memes don’t count since Generation Z has become so reliant on spell check and flippant with the rules of grammar. But where I really got confused was seeing this trend of the comma outside of quotation marks again and again on Jeopardy. I began to wonder if grammar rules had changed in the years since I’d been out of school and I was unaware. I decided to do some investigation.

PLEASE NOTE: If you couldn’t care less about the rules of grammar, especially as they pertain to the minutiae, you may want to skip reading this post.

Grammar Girl

I first consulted the Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips website. Below is a summary of what she had to say.

  • Semicolons, colons, and dashes always go outside quotation marks. For example:
    • Bob snorted and said, “I don’t believe in zombies”―right before thirty of them emerged from the tunnel.
    • Her favorite song was “Gangnam Style”; she spent weeks trying to learn the dance.
    • She sang her favorite line from “I Don’t Wanna Stop”: “You’re either in or in the way.”
  • In the case of question marks and exclamation points, where they go depends on your sentence. If the question mark or exclamation point is part of your quotation, it stays inside; but if the question mark or exclamation point are not part of the quotation, they go outside the closing quotation mark. For example:
    • Reynold asked, “Can we have ice cream for dinner?”
    • Mom snapped and shouted, “No, we cannot have ice cream for dinner!”
    • BUT… Do you actually like “Gangnam Style”?
    • I can’t believe you lied to me about the ending of “The Sixth Sense”!
  • Finally, Grammar Girl indicates that whether periods and commas go inside or outside of quotation marks depends on where your audience lives. In American English, we always put periods and commas inside quotation marks, but in British English, periods and commas can go inside or outside.

Since I learned American grammar rules, I am going to go with the American way, thus…

  • “Don’t underestimate me,” she said with a disarmingly friendly smile.
  • I can never remember how to spell “bureaucracy.”

The only exception Grammar Girl notes is in technical writing when you’re designating something that a user should type into a text box. In this case, it is important for readers to know whether the punctuation should be included in what they type. In such cases, it is acceptable to break the traditional rules and put periods and commas outside the quotation marks if it makes the meaning clearer.

Grammar Girl definitely seemed to be on the same page as me when it came to punctuation and quotation marks, but I wasn’t quite done. I didn’t fail to notice that all of her examples were dialog. There wasn’t a single word or phrase that was quoted within a larger sentence. So I went digging a little further. Time to pull out my well-worn, dog-eared, sticky-note-riddled copy of The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th Edition.

Chicago Manual of Style, 14th EditionTypewriter by Milkovi

If you’ve ever had to look up something in the Chicago Manual of Style, you’ll know that it is not as straightforward as a book like the dictionary might be. There are numerous ways to look up rules. I started with quotations and, again, found mostly rules related to dialog. Since Grammar Girl had covered dialog, I kept up the search until I finally landed on Chapter 5 – Punctuation.

Rule 5.49

Rule 5.49 states: Unless it is restrictive, a word, phrase, or clause that is in apposition to a noun is usually set off by commas. And, while there is no direct mention of a quoted word or phrase, there is one example that stood out…

Example: A “zinc,” or line engraving, will be made from the sketch.

I found only two rules that supported having punctuation outside of quotation marks. Note that in both rules, the words “rare”  and “may” are used. This indicates to me that these instances are exceptions and do not happen all that often.

Rule 5.12

Rule 5.12 states: Quoted words and phrases falling at the end of a sentence can in the vast majority of cases, take the terminating period within the closing quotation mark without confusion or misunderstanding. In those rare instances when confusion is likely, the period not only may, but perhaps should be placed after the quotation marks.

Example: The first line of Le Beau’s warning to Orlando has long been regarded as reading “Good sir I do in friendship counsel you”.

Rule 5.87

Rule 5.87 states: In close textual studies and on similar rare occasions when the inclusion of a comma inside the closing quotation make may cause confusion, the comma may be placed outside the quotation mark.

Example: Following the phrase “silently disrobing”, an odd typographical error occurs.

So what is going on with all of the commas outside of quotation marks? Are there other grammatical references that state otherwise? Are the clues in Jeopardy considered to be “close textual studies”? (See how I did that?) Is this trend that is becoming the norm?