On my pages on apostrophes
and other style issues I make
some recommendations on the use of apostrophes
and other matters; people sometimes feel they would
like a recognised authority to quote in support
of their use. What they want is a style guide.
These fill a useful niche: there is no regulatory
body governing the the use of English (unlike some other
languages), so matters of "right" or "wrong"
are impossible to resolve definitively – the language
is constantly changing, as are people's views on what
is correct usage and what isn't. So dictionaries
are mostly descriptive – they describe use
rather than make recommendations. Equally, grammar
guides can be helpful, but often don't cover the trickier
issues of usage. So if you want something prescriptive
– something which tells you what to do and what
to avoid – you need a style guide. Many are available
(many publications create their own), and none has any
claim to be more right than any other, but the work
which became the standard reference in this field
was Hart's Rules, published in thirty-nine editions
since 1893. This has now become The Oxford
Guide to Style, the OGS, newly published in 2002.
Many of the recommendations I make on my pages derive
from advice given in the OGS, and I have copied a few
snippets here. But it's an invaluable work, and
I'd advise any serious writer to buy his or her own copy.
Details are here.
- Do not use the apostrophe when creating plurals.
This includes names, abbreviations (with or
without full points), numbers, and words not usually
used as nouns:
several Hail Marys
|two wet Februarys
||both the Cambridges
||the three Rs
||sixes and sevens
||whys and wherefores
|ins and outs
||dos and don'ts
||tos and fros
Do not employ what is sometimes known as the 'greengrocer's apostrophe', such
as lettuce's for 'lettuces' and cauli's
- Confusion can result when words, letters, or
symbols are referred to as objects rather than their
meaning, especially when pronunciation may not
be immediately clear. Such items are normally
either italicized or set in quotes, with the s
set in roman outside any closing quote:
too many whiches in
can't pronounce his ths
can't tell her Ms
from her Ns
subtract all the xs
from the ys
dos and don'ts
four 'X's on the label
as, es, is,
os, and us
'a's, 'e's, 'i's, 'o's, and
Common sense and context should determine which
style to use and whether it is necessary; complicated
text may demand a combination of these solutions.
5.13 Quotation marks
|Quotation marks, also called 'inverted commas', are
of two types: single and double. British practice
is normally to enclose quoted matter between single
quotation marks, and to use double quotation marks for
a quotation within a quotation:
'Have you any idea', he said, 'what
This is the preferred OUP practice for academic books.
The order is often reversed in newspapers, and
uniformly in US practice:
"Have you any idea,"
he said, "what 'dillygrout' is?"
If another quotation is nested within the second
quotation, revert to the original mark, either single-double-single
or double-single-double. When reproducing matter
that has been previously set using forms of punctuation
differing from house style, editors may in normal writing
silently impose changes drawn from a small class of
typographical conventions, such as replacing double
quotation marks with single ones, standardizing foreign
or antiquated constructions, and adjusting final punctuation
order. Do not, however, standardize spelling or
other forms of punctuation, nor impose any silent changes
in scholarly works concerned with recreating text precisely,
such as facsimiles, bibliographic studies, or edited
collections of writing or correspondence.
5.13.1 Names and
Quotation marks are not used around the names of
sacred texts or their subdivisions, musical works identified
by description, or houses or public buildings: Chequers,
Cosicot, the Barley Mow.
- Use quotation marks and roman (not italic) type
for titles of short poems and of TV and radio programmes,
and for titles of chapters in books and articles
Brock read a paper on 'Description in Poetry'.
Bradley read a paper on 'Jane Austen's Juvenilia'.
omit quotation marks when the subject of the paper
is paraphrased or a proper name:
Brock read a paper on description in poetry.
Bradley read a paper on Jane Austen.
- Use quotation marks to enclose an unfamiliar
word or phrase, or one to be used in a technical
sense. The effect is similar to that of highlighting
the term through italics:
is the usual term for such interpretation.
subject is the age of Latin literature known as 'Silver'.
quotation marks should be used only at the first
occurrence of the word or phrase in a work; thereafter
it may be considered to be fully assimilated.
- Do not use quotation marks around colloquial
or slang words or phrases. This device, called
'scare quotes', functions simply as a replacement
for a sniffy 'so-called', and should be used as rarely:
have cut down the trees in the interest of 'progess'.
of these 'hackers' seem rather clever.
these examples the quotation marks are used merely
to hold up a word for inspection, as if by tongs,
providing a cordon sanitaire between the
word and the writer's finer sensibilities. ('You
may wish to avert your eyes, gentle reader, whilst
I unveil the word "boogie-woogie".')
placing with other punctuation
Except where the matter is quoted for semantic or
bibliographic scrutiny, the relationship in British
practice between quotation marks and other marks of
punctuation is according to the sense. While
the rules are somewhat lengthy to state in full, the
common-sense approach is to do nothing that changes
the meaning of the quotation or renders it confusing
In US practice, commas and full points are set inside
the closing quoation mark regardless of whether they
are part of the quoted material. The resulting
ambiguity can cause editorial problems when using material
from US sources in British works.
- When the punctuation mark is not part of the
quoted material, as in the case of single words
and phrases, place it outside the closing quotation
mark. Usually, only one mark of terminal punctuation
called 'the Boys from Dover', I am told.
does he use the word 'poison'?
is the use of a book', thought Alice, 'without pictures
how few of them can say, 'I have striven to the
boldly I cried out, 'Woe unto this city!'
- When the requirements of the quotation marks
and the main sentence differ, use the stronger mark.
In the examples below, the question mark supersedes
the weaker full point:
was heard to mutter, 'Did you do it?'
you verify that John said, 'There is only one key
to the room'?
- When the terminal punctuation of the quoted
material and that of the main sentence serve different
functions of equal stength or importance, use both:
had the nerve to ask 'Why are you here?'!
he really shout 'Stop thief!'?
- When quoting only part of a sentence or phrase,
one can standardize punctuation only by ending a
grammatically complete sentence with a full point,
the full point then falling within the closing
quote. This is a legitimate change based on
the assumption that the reader is more interested
in a quotation's meaning in the context into which
it is set than in the quotation's original punctuation
in the context from which it was taken. The
original passage might read:
cannot be done. We must give up the task.
might then quote it as
concluded that 'We must give up the task.'
cannot be done,' he concluded. 'We must give
- When the quotation is long, or made up of more
than one sentence, it is better to attach the closing
point to the long sentence:
said, 'Do not think that I have come to annul the
Law and the Prophets; I have come to fulfil them.'
told you: 'Do not kill. Do not steal. Do
not commit adultery.'
- When a sentence-long quotation is used as an
explanation or specimen, the full point usually
does not fall within the closing quotation mark:
ergo sum means 'I think, therefore I am'.
need not 'follow a multitude to do evil'.
A stand for 'There exists at least one tree
in real space'.
believed in the proverb 'Dead men tell no tales'.
- When a quotation of a full sentence or longer
is followed in text by a reference giving its source
in parentheses, the full point falls outside the
closing parenthesis, rather than inside the closing
'If the writer
of these pages shall chance to meet with any that
shall only study to cavil and pick a quarrel with
him, he is prepared beforehand to take no notice
of it' (Works of Charles and Mary Lamb, i.
Different rules apply for displayed
quotations; see chapter 8.
In direct speech every change in speaker normally
requires a new parapgraph. A quoted speech may
be interrupted at the beginning, middle, or end, by
some such interpolation as he said. The interpolation
is usually -- but not always -- set off by a comma introducing
the speech, or by commas before and after the interpolation:
- The placement of a comma should reflect the
original speech. Three quoted extracts --
with and without internal punctuation -- might be:
home to your father.
home, and never come back.
we will. It's a good idea.
home', he said, 'to your father'.
home,' he said, 'and never come back.'
he said, 'we will. It's a good idea.'
last may equally be quoted in the following ways:
said, 'Yes, we will. It's a good idea.'
we will,' he said. 'It's a good idea.'
we will. It's a good idea,' he said.
[Rest of section omitted.]