In my work as a manuscript evaluator and developmental editor, it’s clear to me that writers are still having a lot of trouble with commas. One of the instances that always seems to cause confusion is the one where sometimes, the full stop or comma appears outside the phrase being quoted, for example:
Harry called it “a dreadful experience”.
Compare this with:
As Harry said, “a dreadful experience.”
Why is this happening? Why is the full stop outside one phrase and not the other?
Well, it all depends on whether or not a comma precedes the phrase.
If a comma precedes the phrase, as in the second example, the full stop is inside the last quotation mark. If there is no comma preceding the phrase, the comma should be placed outside the quotation mark.
This rule is going to change with time, as more and more publishers opt to use the comma inside the quote, no matter what. If you check out some books, particularly US ones, you will see that some publishers are already doing this. It saves time when editing, not to have to pause and think. And time means money.
But, at the moment, it’s a nice touch to use this rule correctly, especially if you’re in the UK or its dominions, and particularly if you intend to submit your work to a magazine or publisher. Taking the trouble to get it right will make you look professional. And that never goes astray.
Next week: the correct use of commas with and, where and joins two distinct sentences.