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LawProse Lesson: Multiple Punctuation Marks

After last week’s lesson on punctuation with quotation marks, a few people asked how to punctuate a midsentence quotation that ends in a question mark. For example:

By first deliberately stating an incorrect version of the events and then asking, “That’s the way it happened, isn’t it?” the detective lured the suspect into contradicting his earlier story.

Do you put a comma after the quotation? If so, where does it go? Both The Chicago Manual of Style and The Gregg Reference Manual state that you omit the comma in this situation. “When a question mark or exclamation point appears at the end of a quotation where a comma would normally appear, the comma is omitted.” The Chicago Manual of Style § 6.119, at 343 (16th ed. 2010).

But the two sources differ when it comes to titles of a work. Chicago does add the comma:

“Are You a Doctor?,” the fifth story in Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, treats modern love.

Gregg does not:

Ex.: Although we were all asked last week to read an article entitled “Can U.S. Manufacturers Prosper in Today’s World Markets?” the topic was totally ignored in this week’s seminar.

Rather than: Although we were all asked last week to read an article entitled “Can U.S. Manufacturers Prosper in Today’s World Markets?,” the topic was totally ignored in this week’s seminar.

Another common question is what to do when an abbreviation ends a sentence. Do you add an additional period? The answer is no. When an abbreviation (or other expression that takes a period) ends a sentence, do not add an additional period {The report was published by Smithstone, Inc.}. But when any other punctuation mark is needed immediately after the period, use both marks {Did she tell you that she is an M.D.?}.

As always, if the phrasing and punctuation is awkward (as it usually is in midsentence) or could lead to confusion, it would be better to rewrite the sentence to avoid the problem. For example, the first example in this lesson could’ve been recast: “The detective lured the suspect into contradicting his earlier story by first deliberately stating an incorrect version of the events and then asking, “That’s the way it happened, isn’t it?”

Further reading:
The Chicago Manual of Style §§ 6.116-6.120, at 343-44 (16th ed. 2010).
William A. Sabin, The Gregg Reference Manual §§ 259-61, at 75-76 (10th ed. 2005).

Thanks to Daniel K. Crane-Hirsch, Geoff Iida, and Richard Wills for suggesting this topic.

Bryan A. Garner, President of LawProse Inc., is the most prolific CLE presenter in the U.S., having trained more than 150,000 lawyers and judges. His book — most prominently Black’s Law Dictionary and Garner’s Modern American Usage — have been cited as authority by every state and federal appellate court, including the highest. For more about him, go to www.lawprose.org. To follow him on Twitter: @bryanagarner.

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