Two punctuation marks at the end of a sentence
When two punctuation marks coincide at the end of a sentence, do you need both? The general principles are:
- If the marks are the same, only one is needed.
- If they are different, the stronger or ‘heavier’ one takes precedence.
A question mark thus supersedes a full stop used to mark the end of a sentence or quotation:
- He asked, ‘Do you want a lift?’
- What did they mean by ‘Further information is needed’?
In each case, the question mark takes over from the full stop which might have appeared on the other side of the quote marks.
Source: The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, 2004.
P. 116 Place the terminating punctuation inside the closing quotation mark when there is no carrier expression, but outside teh closing quotation mark whenever there is a carrier expression:
- ‘It’s great fun. I love being an advocate.’
- She laughed and said, ‘It’s great fun. I love being an advocate’.
When two different punctuation marks would logically appear together—one applying to the quotation and the other to the sentence—it is a question of deciding which is the stronger and retaining only that:
- He heard the Speaker call ‘Order!’
- A person might ask, ‘Why should a prospective employer have access to my medical records?’
- Did you hear her say ‘Hooray for the digital age’?
- On this note, the last bullet point in a list takes a full stop—unless some bullet points contain more than one sentence, in which case it would be more consistent to place a full stop after each bullet point in the list.
Source: Style Manual, sixth edition*
*Style Manual fifth edition—note that style rules change. It may be best to replace the 5th edition if you are using it, as it states: When two different punctuation marks appear together, one applying to the quotation and the other to the sentence, both should be printed. (*He said, ‘Do you think I am mad?’.)
Janet Mackenzie on quotation marks:
Americans cut through this dilemma by placing all end punctuation inside the closing quote mark, and dialogue in novels also follows this practice. It doesn’t matter which rule you follow; the reader will soon get used to it as long as the system has some logic and is consistently applied.
Source: The Editor’s Companion, 2004.
More on this topic next week!