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How to Cope with Writing Difficulties: Where to place Quotation Marks; Placing Words for Intended Meaning; Verb Endings

Updated on July 29, 2017
annart profile image

Ann is a retired teacher of literacy and EFL (English as a Foreign Language) to multi-national & dyslexic students, having a DipSpLD

Here we go Again!

Yes, I’m still here. You don’t get away that easily. Once more, this is not me on my hobbyhorse. I’m answering a plea to explain certain issues when writing. In the comments of my hub about spelling confusions, Faith Reaper asked me about where to put quotation marks, inside or outside the punctuation. The other was the correct placement of words in sentences to convey the intended meaning.

Quotation Marks

Faith writes “.... the punctuation is either outside the quotations and then some use the final punctuation inside the quotations. I know that both are correct depending on your sentence structure. To me, if the entire sentence is a quote, then the punctuation should be inside the quotations, but if only part of the sentence is in a quote and the quote is at the end of the sentence, then the punctuation should be outside the last quote in the sentence. Again, I am confused as I see published authors using it differently.”

Have you noticed where I have put the quotation marks when quoting Faith’s words? This was her entire paragraph. She was correct in that I have quoted everything she wrote in that paragraph therefore the quotation marks go outside the whole lot, including punctuation. Well done Faith!

And I Quote.....


Quotation Marks Outside Punctuation

Her key words are “..both are correct depending on your sentence structure.” She is indeed correct.

Let’s look at some examples. Consider the following:

The latest thinking on hubpages writers, according to an eminent psychologist, is that “These writers are a brilliant bunch of well-adjusted, gifted people who always produce amazing stories and essays.”

The words in quotes are exactly what the psychologist said, therefore everything he said, including the punctuation that goes with it, is put within quotation marks.

Quotation Marks Inside Punctution

So when do we put quotation marks before the punctuation? Have a look at the following (and it must be remembered that I'm using accepted British grammar here - I know it's sometimes different in American English).

1. Why is it that some people say, “The end of the world is nigh”?

I’m quoting what people say but within the context of my own sentence, in this case a question. What they say is not a question therefore the question mark goes after the quote because it’s my question, not theirs.

“Who is this person?” she said. “He’s my brother”, he replied. I’m quoting a direct conversation so what is said goes into quotes. The person’s question goes before the quotation marks but the comma after the answer is part of my reporting, so goes after.

Kim said she was all for “playing the part”. You’re taking a few words of what someone has said as part of your sentence.


Simply put, quotes

go after exact sentences that have been said,

go before your own punctuation (i.e. not part of someone else’s phrase or sentence).

Journalists Report


Reported Speech - no Quotation Marks!

Reported speech is another matter. It means you are simply reporting the gist of what someone said, for example

The vicar said he was going to flavour the font water with gin.

What the vicar actually said was, “I’m going to flavour the font water with gin.” You are reporting it as something he said (in the past) so the tense of the verb ‘to be’ has to go into the past too. There are no quotation marks here because you’re reporting the fact that he said something rather than his exact words.

I hope that’s clear but if you need further clarification don’t be afraid to ask. The fault will be with the teacher, not the pupil.

Word Placement

The placement of words in sentences is not so difficult as long as you look carefully at the meaning you wish to convey to convey.

I’m going to quote Faith again and I’m sure she won’t mind because she’s already corrected herself on this one. She wrote:

“I am always surprised when I see those, especially in the education field, using these examples here you have indicated incorrectly.”

The adverb ‘incorrectly’ has been placed after the verb ‘indicated’, implying that I was the one who indicated something incorrectly. (As if! .... well..actually it has been known.)

What was meant, in fact, was that people in the field of education used the examples incorrectly. The correct wording would be:

‘....those, especially in the field of education, incorrectly using these examples you have indicated here.’

Another example:

He couldn’t drive the ghost train well. (he couldn’t drive it with skill)

Well, he couldn’t drive the ghost train! (amazement that he couldn’t drive it)

Word Order


Placing of Punctuation

Punctuation also makes a difference to meaning (such as the exclamation mark above).

Let’s look at the classic example which never fails to make me giggle.

Version 1: "I’m looking forward to eating Grandma."

Version 2: "I’m looking forward to eating, Grandma."

Being a grandma, I’m slightly worried by the first version!

Try a variety of punctuation with some of your sentences and see how these changes work for you. In other words, make sure you've chosen the correct placement of commas, question marks and so on.

Have Mercy!

I don't really look like this!
I don't really look like this! | Source

Verb - Third Person

No, I'm not introducing you to someone else.

Another grammar issue mentioned by Faith and also by Jo (tobusiness) was the verb ending of the third person singular and plural.

At the risk of teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, we’ll clarify what third person singular and plural mean.

3rd person singular (3ps): he, she, it (a person or a thing)

3rd person plural: (3pp) they (persons or things)

Take the verb ‘to want’, where the

3ps is ‘he/she/it wants’ (with ‘s’) and the

3pp is ‘they want’ (no ‘s’)

Substitute Words

The problem usually arises when there is a substitute word for the singular he/she/it, such as ‘anyone’ or ‘anything’ or ‘none’. Anyone is a ‘singular’ word, as is ‘anything’. ‘None’ is an old contraction that has lost its apostrophe; the contraction was from the words ‘not one’, therefore also singular. So you might have a sentence like:

“If any (‘one’ is understood) of you wants clarification on any point of spelling or grammar, please ask.”

- the key is the word ‘one’, any one of you, not the word ‘you’.

You have to ask yourself how many people you’re talking about to start with, the subject of the sentence. Ask yourself if you could substitute ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘it wants’.

Another version of my sentence could be:

“If you want me to clarify anything....” In this case the verb ‘want’ goes with the word ‘you’ which in this example is plural, although it would be the same for the singular ‘you’.

Similarly, ‘Any one of those cars is able to do 200 mph.’

The verb goes with ‘any one’ not with ‘cars’. The simpler sentence about the cars is:

‘The cars are able to do 200 mph.’ Of course, you know that.

Use it or Lose it!

So, there you are, Faith and Jo. Thank you so much for the questions. I hope this alleviates the problems for you and for anyone else who might find this useful.

You’ll find another hub about the issue of doubling consonants (or not) in spelling. Again, not my idea so don’t shout at me for banging on about grammar and spelling! I was asked, ok?

Have fun with your writing and just make sure you proof-read at least once. If you’re unsure about any of it, look it up! There are plenty of sources to help you; good reference books, dictionaries and even hubs. Play with words and see where it takes you; that’s the only way you’re going to learn how to use them, how to practise your spelling and how to use grammar.

Good Luck!

Verbs, Endings, Nouns, Adjectives.....

Is it necessary for the ordinary writer to worry about terminology?

See results

© 2014 Ann Carr


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    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Yes, each to his own of course. I just tell it as I was taught and as it makes sense to me. Thanks very much for your third visit today!


    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 3 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      English and American publishers' style guides have traditionally differed on the where to put the closing quotes -- the English doing what makes sense, as you described, and the Americans putting the period or comma inside the quotes no matter what. I've been converted to the do what makes sense school. Take, for instance, the sentence: The sign said, "House for sale." That is the American style of using quotes. But if the sign did not include a period and if I don't wish to tell a lie, then I have to write: The sign said, "House for sale".

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Yes, Jo, it's good practice as long as the break is a natural one. In other words, the break has to be between phrases as you have done rather than just arbitrary. Take care that you don't blend what should be two sentences. For example:

      'I wanted to go out but, because of the weather, I decided to stay put.' If you take out the part between the commas, the sentence still stands.

      However: 'I wanted to go out, because of the weather I decided to stay put.' This needs either a semi-colon after 'out' or a full stop which would create a second sentence. Hope that makes sense!

      Good question; many people aren't sure on that score and I see quite a few errors. The positioning of commas, semi-colons and colons is tricky!

      Hope your word processing classes continue to go well, (((Jo))).


    • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

      Jo_Goldsmith11 3 years ago

      This is so helpful! In school I am taking the word processing class and thanks to you, I am doing much better, I think. Here is my question which I hope hasn't been asked yet. Is it okay to use a comma when you are taking a breath in between sentences?

      Like I did when I stated= "thanks to you, I am doing much better, I think. " ? You are the best. Please stay on your " hobbyhorse"!

      This writer truly needs you to! :-)

      Shared and Up

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      pennyforyourthots: Thank you! I'm glad you found it clear. Your visit is much appreciated.


    • profile image

      Pennyforyourthots 3 years ago

      I like that it was short and to the point. Your explanations are easy to follow with terrific examples. Thanks!

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      I'm sure you already do, RTalloni; you're a good writer. Thanks for visiting and commenting. Hope the new year has started well for you.


    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      :) ..and now let's see if I can get it all right every time!

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, Flourish. Glad you like this. I know it's a bit of a minefield for some but I'm learning to not get so bothered about it all! Thanks for the visit; much appreciated.


    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Somehow I missed this. I enjoy a good grammar or punctuation hub, as I always loved the English classes in school. One thing that tickles my funny bone is the overuse of the quotation marks. It always makes me wonder what would prompt the writer to use them.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      MartieCoester: I'm glad this is useful. I think those whose first language is not English have great courage to write on hubpages and I have huge admiration for all of you.


    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 3 years ago from South Africa

      Because English is not my mother tongue, I always appreciate hubs about English grammar. Thank you, annart!

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Well, thank you, bill. You know how much I appreciate your support. Hubpages friendships are strong and I'm glad to say that I think peace is resumed which is great in this season of goodwill to all. All is now forgiven and forgotten.


    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Purist high horse???? Ann???? I don't see that at all in you, Ann, or what you have written. I'm sorry you received that snide comment during this season of love and giving. Again, this was a very helpful article and I'm glad you wrote it.


    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      suzettenaples: Thank you; much appreciated.


    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      I sincerely wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year also, even though we have our differences.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Thanks for that Catherine. There are quite a few different rules between the US and the UK English, as I understand. The British rules for quotation marks make more sense to me too, purely because they clarify meaning.

      Having said that, I don't want anyone to think that I think British rules are superior to US rules! I think I've trodden on a few people's toes which is something I definitely didn't want to do. I'm here to try to help, not to annoy people.

      I appreciate you getting back to me and your support, Catherine.


    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      BTW, I went on the internet to check. The rules for quotes for American English do different from those for British English. The British rules make much more sense.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      suzettenaples: I wasn't for one moment implying that those books were synonymous with falling into sloppy use. I was talking about some use of language in general and certainly not the differences in American English. I'm sorry to have offended you and I obviously didn't choose my words well.

      I never intended to be 'on my high horse' literally; just laughing at myself for tending towards the purist side. I've mentioned here several times that I recognise there are differences between the British and the American English and I do not for one moment decry the American usage; it's just different. The English language evolves in varied ways depending on the country - America, Australia, Canada, etc, and all have their validity.

      I do not ever wish to insult anyone, neither here on hubpages nor anywhere else so I reiterate my apology.

      I hope you can accept my sincere wishes for a happy Christmas and a healthy, prosperous new year.


    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      I don't think the AP style book or MLA style book is sliding into sloppy use of the English language and I find your comment insulting. May be you need to get off the purist high horse. This is how it is taught in America and you should have the grace to accept that.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Wednesday-Elf: Glad to be of help.

      Thanks for your comment.


    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, Dora. Glad this helps. It's true that US & UK English is a little different with the rules but, as I've said time and time again, the meaning has to be made clear. As long as we do that, we're ok.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Yes, Catherine. There are different rules for US and UK English, I know. However, like you say, the English way gives a clearer meaning; whichever we use, it's important to make sure our written English is clear.

      Thanks for the comment.


    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 3 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      I appreciate your clarification regarding quotation marks. It is one area I've always had a problem with in my writing.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      So, I have some corrections to make, thanks to you. Bill has my vote on your being an editor for HP. Meanwhile, we continue to benefit from your articles. Thanks!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I see you are fro England. I think the rules might be different for American English. At least I had an editor who told me that since I was doing it the England way because it makes more sense.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, Frank. Yes, she puts me up to all sorts! :)

      Appreciate your continued support.


    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      mary615: Thank you for reading and I'm glad this has helped you a little. It's just practice; eventually it will become second nature to you!

      I appreciate your visit.


    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      suzettenaples: The Oxford grammar books and Thomson & Martinet English Grammar back me up on this. I guess it is current use that changes what people do. I find that the differences clarify meaning and make for easier reading. I too have taught English (literacy to dyslexics and EFL). I know I'm probably flogging a dead horse here but I tend to the purist side! I'm not against language evolving but I am against English sliding into sloppy use when writing.

      At the end of the day it's hardly a life and death issue; I just like to help those who ask for clarification.

      Hope you have a great Christmas and a happy new year!


    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Thank you so much, Faith, for your encouragement and continued support. I'm glad I've made it a little clearer for you.

      It's a busy time especially with family so that's more important than publishing loads of hubs. We wait patiently because we know the outcome will be wonderful, as always. You cheer up any day :)

      Enjoy your days up to Christmas and have a wonderful day on Thursday!


    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

      Faith is always stirring up trouble.. :) LOL.. no annart another useful hub.. sometimes we gotta step back and retrain ourselves.. hubs like this help bless you :)

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 3 years ago from Florida

      I always have problems with quotation marks! I have to run for my little book to keep checking myself. I thank you for writing this article. I will put it to good use.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      As a retired Spanish and English teacher I do have to say that punctuation always goes inside the quotation marks in both languages. I am referencing the AP Stylebook, the MLA style book. This is the first I have ever heard what you write here about putting punctuation outside of quotation marks. Perhaps it is different in the UK / Australia, but in the U. S. And Spanish speaking countries the punctuation is inside the quotation marks.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      You are so wonderful, dear Ann! Thank you for clarifying all of these issues for me, especially. Oh, I think Bill is on to something concerning you being an editor for HubPages. You would certainly make an amazing one.

      I was so confused about where to place quotations, especially after reading so many writers and their using them differently. I believe I am clear now, and so glad to know I was correct about something, and glad I caught myself on that one faux pas there!

      Good to know that our dear Jo (tobusiness) had inquired too.

      Stellar hub here, our dear and most wonderful teacher, Ann.

      Up +++ tweeting, pinning, G+ and sharing

      I am hoping things will slow down a bit for me and I am able to start publishing soon ...

      Merry Christmas and blessings to you and yours always

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      always exploring: Thank you for your kind comment. I'm glad it helped and I greatly appreciate your support.


    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Ann, your writing made using quotation marks clear for me. I wasn't sure. Thank you again for all your help to make us better writers. I appreciate you!

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Thanks Rachel, for your valuable comment and for the votes.

      I didn't realise the US teaching was different but there you go. I know spelling differs greatly though. I would still argue that it's wrong if it confuses meaning.

      Yes, speaking it all out loud is a good idea but not many can be bothered to take the time I think!

      Good to see you here today! Hope you have a great Christmas.


    • RachaelOhalloran profile image

      Rachael O'Halloran 3 years ago from United States

      My very first hub was on the placement of quotation marks. BTW, I pleased to see that it is listed among the "Related Hubs" section.

      Placement of quotations marks has always been a pet peeve of mine. I thought people were doing it wrong, so I set out to research it. I learned that there are different rules for different countries and that there is no right or wrong way. Placement depends on where you were educated.

      Those living outside the USA were taught punctuation goes outside the quotation marks and most of us in the USA were taught that punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.

      The part of your article regarding "reported speech" is valuable and should be noted by all writers, because it is very easy to fall into a style of writing that resembles the way we speak. The remedy is to speak out loud while writing (typing) so the misconstrued sentences can be spotted quickly and corrected.

      Good article. Voted up. :)

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      mdscoggins: Thank you for your kind comment; glad to be of help to you. Quotation marks can be a pain! Thanks to for the votes and for sharing. Much appreciated.


    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Don't worry, bill, I'm done for today! You can go back to your film. Sorry to overtax you on a Sunday, day of rest and all that, but I needed to make up for inactivity this week.

      Seriously, you're very kind; I do appreciate you taking the time to read my hubs today and I'm glad they might be of some use to you. As to being an editor at HP, I've got better things to do. Writing is one thing but..... enough said!

      I notice you're spreading the use of 'brilliant' around hub-land; it'll be current US usage soon! Such is the evolution of language, especially when used by prolific writers like you. Brilliant!

      Yes, thanks, I'm having a good day. It's cold outside and warm in here so I'm happy sitting at my computer.

      Enjoy the rest of your Sunday, bill, then you can get back to work tomorrow. Looking forward to the Monday treat.

      Ann :))

    • mdscoggins profile image

      Michelle Scoggins 3 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Great hub Ann. You really helped clear up how to use quotations, I will have to remember this rule when I am writing. Voted up and shared.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Are we practicing over-achieving this morning??? Two in one day, Ann? This is supposed to be my day off, but there is no way I can let one of your articles slip by, so here I am, instead of sitting and watching a Christmas movie. Sigh!

      I needed help with quotation marks, so I thank you. Very helpful lesson. I'm wondering why you aren't an editor for HP instead of the ones they have been promoting of late, who can't seem to properly edit the HOTD on a daily basis? Just curious!

      Have a brilliant Sunday. Hopefully you are done posting for the day. :)



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