E-mails I get about my columns and books are frequently laden with apologies, disclaimers, and self-deprecating remarks about the sender's grammar. Stuff like: "I'm sure I'm making a ton of grammar mistakes in this message." That's a shame, because the grammar in those e-mails is usually fine.
But there is one mistake that crops up in them a lot. These people often put periods and commas outside of quotation marks.
When he said, "Make my day", Eastwood became legend.This is how they do it in Great Britain. But it's an error here in the U.S.
The rule here is that commas and periods always go inside quotation marks. Colons and semicolons always go outside. Question marks and exclamation points can go either way, depending on whether they pertain to the quoted matter or to the whole sentence. So it's:
Did you hear the policeman yell "Stop"? (Whole sentence is a question, quoted matter is not.)Strangely, e-mails from people other than readers -- ones from friends and even forwarded messages originated by complete strangers -- do not seem as prone to this mistake. Perhaps it's because people writing to me about grammar and usage are more likely to include quotations. But it's also possible that it's a product of self-consciousness -- at least partly.
I heard Jane ask, "Why won't you stop?" (Question falls within the sentence.)