Wither goest the quotation marks? 7

I always, or at least since grad school, thought that it was American publishing practice that everything went inside the quotation marks, even if you add a question mark. Today I was reviewing the SBL Handbook of Style and was surprised to see that they do not agree.

A question mark, however, belongs outside of the quotation marks unless it is part of the quoted or parenthetical material (CMS 5.28). Thus:

Why had he said, “I’m too tired to respond”?
Do you understand the word “pedant”?
He asked, “What can I do?”

Colons and semicolons also belong outside quotation marks:

S. Westerholm wrote the article “ ‘Letter’ and ‘Spirit’: The Foundation of Pau-
line Ethics.”

Who knew? (Probably a lot of you. That was just rhetorical, no need to reply.)


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7 thoughts on “Wither goest the quotation marks?

  • Kevin A. Wilson

    Since starting work as an editor on the New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, I have been spending a lot of time with the SBL Style Guide. I have always been very particular about conforming to style guides, but I have learned a number of new things in the past few weeks.

    Personally, I have always preferred the British style, which places most things outside the quotes unless they are a part of the quote.

    If I could change one thing about scholarly writing, I would wish for scholars to learn to use the comma properly. A number of our contributors seem to think that a comma is the equivalent of a breathing mark. Blech!

  • Joe Weaks

    I would echo the preference for the British system (or let’s just called it the syntactically sound system) where punctuation that is a function of the quote goes inside the quotation marks while punctuation that is a function of the sentence goes outside the marks.

  • Chris Brady Post author

    I agree with you both, which is why I was surprised to see that SBL seems to be taking half a step towards the home of our native tongue. Next they will be making even commas outside of the quotation marks!

  • steph

    What about the SBL Handbook of Style’s style? That is, what about “belongs outside of the quotation marks”? “Outside of”? I’d drop the “of”. I couldn’t use a style with an “of” where it shouldn’t be. Isn’t it just an “Americanism”? However I agree with their placing of quotation marks.

  • steph

    I see and hear that stray or superfluous “of” often, always from an American source. “Get off of the chair”. Why did it originate? I suppose we get out of a car so we might get off of a chair – except we don’t of course. We get off it. …. 🙂