A visitor to the Writing Guide asked about the proper punctuation of quotations in a couple examples where it looks as if doubling up the punctuation marks would be in order:
What is the proper placement of punctuation and quotes in the following two sentences?
- “Why is it increasing?”, “Do you think it will continue to increase?”, and “What is the smallest value?” are some questions a math teacher might ask their students.
- Unfortunately, this student’s usual reaction is to make some rude remark, yell “I don’t understand!”, or not attempt the assignment at all.
Actually, I don’t know of any instance in which using double punctuation would be acceptable, except in informal writing when showing exclamation and surprise (“?!?”). However, I must say that I was stumped, especially with the first example.
I turned to someone who is much smarter and more knowledgeable than I am—a former colleague of mine in the Calvin College English Department, who suggested recasting the first sentence and simply removing the comma in the second. Here is what the two sentences would look like with proper punctuation:
- Here are some questions a math teacher might ask students: “What is the smallest value?” “Why is it increasing?” “Do you think it will continue to increase?”
- Unfortunately, this student’s usual reaction is to make some rude remark, yell “I don’t understand!” or not attempt the assignment at all.
You’ll notice that in the first sentence we put a complete statement first and followed it with a colon. We then listed each question in a more logical sequence, wrapping each one in quotation marks. Finally, we removed “their” to avoid the pronoun-antecedent disagreement (a math teacher/their).
For basic guidelines on using punctuation with quotation marks, see my previous entry: Quotation Marks. Please note, though, that the rules are different for Canadian/British English.