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Italics vs. Quotation Marks

Up until a few decades ago, writers had two choices: write in longhand or use a typewriter. Typewriters had one font. The characters were one size only. If you wanted to cut and paste, you needed scissors and adhesive tape.

Writing in italics was all but impossible, except for professional printing companies.

Thanks to today’s computer keyboards, we now have access to italics. So we need a sensible plan for when to use them and when to use quotation marks. Here is a formula we recommend: Put the title of an entire composition in italics. Put the title of a short work—one that is or could be part of a larger undertaking—in quotation marks.

By “composition” we mean a creative, journalistic, or scholarly enterprise that is whole, complex, a thing unto itself. This includes books, movies, plays, TV shows, newspapers, magazines, websites, music albums, operas, musical theater, paintings, sculptures, and other works of art.

The following sentence illustrates the principle: Richard Burton performed the song “Camelot” in the 1960 Broadway musical Camelot. Although the word is the same, “Camelot” the song takes quotation marks because it’s part of a larger work—namely, a full-length show called Camelot.

Italics are also widely used with names of ships, trains, and planes, e.g., the Titanic, the 20th Century Limited, the Spirit of St. Louis. (Note: with ships, do not italicize prefixes such as USS or HMS.)

Quotation marks are customary for components, such as chapter titles in a book, individual episodes of a TV series, songs on a music album, and titles of articles or essays in print or online.

Titles of plays, long and short, are generally italicized. Titles of poems and shorter works of fiction are generally in quotation marks. Long poems, short films, and the extended stories known as “novellas” are a gray area; some people italicize the titles, others put them in quotation marks.

You won’t go wrong with this policy: For a full-blown composition, put the title in italics. For something smaller and less ambitious, e.g., a short story as opposed to a sprawling novel, put the title in quotation marks. That’s the long and the short of it.

 

Pop quiz
Place italics and quotation marks where they should go.

1. Elvis Presley sang Love Me Tender in the movie Love Me Tender.
2. Chapter 4 of Beautiful Ruins is called The Smile of Heaven.
3. Who sang God Save the Queen on the HMS Bounty?

 

Pop quiz answers
1. Elvis Presley sang “Love Me Tender” in the movie Love Me Tender.
2. Chapter 4 of Beautiful Ruins is called “The Smile of Heaven.”
3. Who sang “God Save the Queen” on the HMS Bounty? (no points if you italicized HMS)

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Posted on Monday, June 16, 2014, at 10:39 pm


We the People, or…?

For much of the last two months, we have been analyzing why the subject pronouns I, he, she, we, they and the object pronouns me, him, her, us, them are chronically misused and confused.

In this final installment, we’ll deal with flawed sentences like Politicians should respect we the people and It’s a happy outcome for he who laughs last.

Formal writing requires “us the people” (object of respect) and “him who laughs last” (object of for), even though we instinctively resist tampering with venerable expressions like we the people and he who laughs last.

If being correct would ruin the mood, there may be creative ways around the grammatical buzzkill. In the first case, we could probably avoid censure by using capitals: Politicians should respect We the People. This signals the reader that the well-known phrase is sacrosanct and must not be altered.

In the second example, we could write: a happy outcome for “he who laughs last.”  The quotation marks grant the words special dispensation, like the title of a book or movie.

So now, here is a summary of the chief causes of pronoun confusion.

• All forms of the verb to be. Informal sentences (It was me, It must have been them, It seems to be her) wrongly use object pronouns instead of what are called subject complements. (The correct pronouns respectively would be I, they, and she.)

• Compound subjects and compound objects. In everyday speech, when and or or links a pronoun with other nouns or pronouns, the results are often ungrammatical: Joe and him went fishing, Sue invited my friend and I for dinner, Her or I will meet you there. (The correct pronouns respectively would be he, me, and she.)

• Comparative sentences using as or than. Sentences like You’re as smart as her and Eddie ran faster than them sound fine but are technically flawed. (The correct pronouns respectively would be she and they.)

• Infinitives and verbs ending in -ing. They change subjects to objects. An infinitive such as to be turns I believe he is honest into I believe him to be honest. A verb ending in -ing, such as going, gives us the option of saying either I saw he was going home or I saw him going home. This can be especially confusing with compound subjects and objects, or when who-whom is involved.

• Idiomatic phrases containing subject pronouns (we the people, he who laughs last).

 

Pop Quiz

Correct any sentences that are formally ungrammatical.

1. LaTroy knew it was him who everyone preferred.

2. According to witnesses, it had to have been we.

3. The receipts were always safe with Maria and I.

4. May him and his friend join us for a nightcap?

5. She’s every bit as confused as me.

6. Your cousin’s wife looks older than he.

7. Who do you suspect was hiding something?

8. Who do you suspect to be hiding something?

9. This has been a bad week for we citizens of the United States.

10. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Pop Quiz Answers

1. LaTroy knew it was he whom everyone preferred.

2. According to witnesses, it had to have been we. CORRECT

3. The receipts were always safe with Maria and me.

4. May he and his friend join us for a nightcap?

5. She’s every bit as confused as I.

6. Your cousin’s wife looks older than he. CORRECT

7. Who do you suspect was hiding something? CORRECT

8. Whom do you suspect to be hiding something?

9. This has been a bad week for us citizens of the United States.

10. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

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Posted on Tuesday, November 12, 2013, at 6:54 pm


Sabotage in Broad Daylight?

If you like being punched in the gut, type the word literally into Google, everyone’s favorite Internet search engine. Here is what you’ll find:

  1. In a literal manner or sense; exactly: “the driver took it literally when asked to go straight over the traffic circle”.
  2. Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.

If you’re like most sticklers, definition 2 just ruined your day. When literally can mean “not literally true,” aren’t we living an Orwellian nightmare?

Since when is Google qualified to redefine words? A closer look reveals that Google’s self-appointed experts don’t even know the basics of capitalization or punctuation. For instance, why no capital T for “the driver…”?

Also, keep in mind that in America, periods never go outside quotation marks, and Google is an American company. What contortions would a Google spokesperson have to go through to defend the period placement at the end of definition 1?

Look at the wording of definition 2: “Used to acknowledge…” Does this strike you as a bit coy? Note the passive voice, which allows Google to duck the key question: “Used” by whom? Well, you hear it (ab)used a lot by education-challenged 18- to 49-year-olds who clearly have not bothered to learn what the word means. That’s why they say things like, “She literally threw me under the bus” and “I’m literally freezing to death.”

This is the very demographic that produced Google’s founders, and most of its employees. These literally-torturers are the people who make the company profitable. So Google “gives back” by legitimizing its best customers’ sabotage of this powerful word.

We language watchdogs may not like it, but for Google, showing solidarity with its contemporaries—even to the point of endorsing their ignorance—is a savvy business decision.

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Posted on Saturday, August 24, 2013, at 3:39 pm


Question Marks with Quotation Marks

Last week, we examined the strict rule governing periods and commas with quotation marks. This week, let’s look at the more logical rules governing the use of question marks with quotation marks.

Rule – The placement of question marks with quotations follows logic. If a question is in quotation marks, the question mark should be placed inside the quotation marks.

Examples:
She asked, “Will you still be my friend?”

Do you agree with the saying, “All’s fair in love and war”?
Here the question is outside the quote.

NOTE: Although some writers and editors disagree in special cases, only one ending punctuation mark is necessary with quotation marks. Also, the stronger punctuation mark wins. Therefore, no period after war is used.

 

Rule – When you have a question outside quoted material AND inside quoted material, use only one question mark and place it inside the quotation mark.

Example:
Did she say, “May I go?”

 

Pop Quiz

Choose the correct sentence.

1A. The song asks, “Would you like to swing on a star?”

1B. The song asks, “Would you like to swing on a star”?

 

2A. “Is it almost over?” he asked?

2B. “Is it almost over?” he asked.

2C. “Is it almost over?,” he asked.

2D. “Is it almost over,” he asked?

 

3A. Do you believe the saying, “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it”?

3B. Do you believe the saying, “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it?”

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1A. The song asks, “Would you like to swing on a star?”

2B. “Is it almost over?” he asked.

3A. Do you believe the saying, “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it”?

 

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Posted on Tuesday, April 9, 2013, at 11:45 am


Periods with Quotation Marks

Bart F. recently wrote, “I read your Bluebook rules, but the examples omitted the common usage found when a sentence ends with a quote that completes the thought.”

Bart continued:

Texas, with a history of rugged individualism, was part of the “Sagebrush rebellion”. I was taught that this was the one exception to the quotation mark following the period. Am I right or wrong?

Before I answer his question, let me first ask this: How many of you have been advised of one or all of the following phrases many times, “never say never,” “never say always,” and “there’s an exception to every rule”?

To that I give you our Rule 1 of Quotation Marks: Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, even inside single quotes. (Emphasis added.)

Really, always? Always. Never place the period outside the quotation marks? Never. Are there no exceptions? No exceptions.

There is one catch: This is the American English rule (this newsletter, The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, and www.GrammarBook.com represent American English rules). If you follow British English rules, then Bart is correct and you must use logic instead of just following a rule.

Now, try your hand at the pop quiz. Even if you don’t live in the United States, as long as you follow the American English rule, you really should get 100% right on this quiz!

Pop Quiz

Choose the correct sentence.

1A. Texas, with a history of rugged individualism, was part of the “Sagebrush rebellion”.
1B. Texas, with a history of rugged individualism, was part of the “Sagebrush rebellion.”

2A. She said, “Hurry up”.
2B. She said, “Hurry up.”

3A. The sign changed from “Walk”, to “Don’t Walk”, to “Walk” again within 30 seconds.
3B. The sign changed from “Walk,” to “Don’t Walk,” to “Walk” again within 30 seconds.

Pop Quiz Answers


1B. Texas, with a history of rugged individualism, was part of the “Sagebrush rebellion.”
2B. She said, “Hurry up.”
3B. The sign changed from “Walk,” to “Don’t Walk,” to “Walk” again within 30 seconds.

Did you get them all right?

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Posted on Tuesday, April 2, 2013, at 3:38 pm