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  • Writer's pictureAmanda George

Some random thoughts about punctuation, by Martha (diminutive but knowledgeable feline)

Someone recently asked me to write a blog about punctuation (specifically quotation marks and punctuation), which made me happy, because 1) someone is reading and enjoying my blogs, 2) someone likes to think about grammar as much as I do, and 3) I get to write about grammar. Martha (pictured) – worm-catching, teeny-tiny rescue kitten/cat with a northern accent – is my office assistant. She has a lot of time on her hands, so she wanted to be involved. Yes, I have just anthropomorphised my cat. Indulge us please. Here we go:

· Quotation marks are used to mark out direct speech. Example: Martha asked, ‘When can I have more of my [no product placement please, Martha] favourite treats?’

· No quote marks are needed for indirect speech. Example: Martha asked for some more of her highly addictive cat treats, which shall not be named.

· UK English tends to adopt single quote marks, while US English mostly uses double. That’s a bit of a generalisation, but Martha told me to say it.

· Some authors use one system for quotations and dialogue and another for emphasis. Judith Butcher (Butcher’s Copy-editing) agrees with me and Martha – or, rather, we agree with her, because she is a legend – that it is simpler to adopt one system for both. Example: When referring to her so-called ‘fur-brothers’ – Pablo Pete and Huey Bee – Martha said: ‘They come from the same cat rescue as me, in Sheffield. Init.’

· Square brackets (rather than parentheses – otherwise known as round brackets) are used to alter or add information to quoted matter (see also first example). Example: ‘I always get my coffee from the same coffee shop [Martha utters something indistinguishable about a well-known chain of coffee shops], because I love it.’

· There is no need to add a full point at the end of a sentence after an abbreviation that ends in a point. Example: The forest was full of wildlife (not a grammar-loving northern kitten in sight): squirrels, pigeons, snakes, deer, etc.

· There is no need to add a full point at the end of a sentence after a punctuation mark that finishes a book title or journal article. Example: She was a copy-editor for Which? Example: The article was called ‘A room with a view, Northants.’

· When a quotation ending in a question mark or exclamation point ends a sentence, no full point is needed. Example: She kept asking, ‘Why can’t I have more treats?’ Example: He was shouting: ‘Please get this massive spider out of my room!’

· When the matter within parentheses is complete, there is no need for punctuation after the closing bracket. Example: The girl liked walking in the forest while listening to music. (She could be overhead whispering to herself, ‘This is my happy place.’)

More random thoughts from Martha (about grammar, cat treats, worms, her brothers) are bound to follow. For now, we wish you a happy September, full of hazy sun, gentle rain, magical forests, talking animals, and enough – but not too much – work.

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