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Commas and Quotation Marks

I have a list of Computer Programs that I am including in some documentation and have a question regarding the use of commas.

The list looks like this: “Test.prg” “Test2.prg” “Test3.prg”

If I included this list in a sentence I tend to think that the programs should be separated by commas but the commas should be outside the quotes like this: “Test.prg”, “Test2.prg”, and “Test3.prg”.

Another program says that the commas (and the period) belong inside the quotes like: “Test.prg,” “Test2.prg,” and “Test3.prg.”

I think this just looks completely idiotic. I know for most quotes, punctuation belongs inside the quotes but I believe in this instance, the quotation marks aren’t meaning dialog but just another part of the item name and so should not be treated as regular quotation marks.



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"Test.prg," "Test2.prg," and "Test3.prg."

is correct standard American English.

"Test.prg", "Test2.prg", and "Test3.prg".

is correct standard British English (and Canadian, etc.)

Pick the option that most closely corresponds with the remainder of yourt documentation.

As far as it looking stupid, nothing correct ever looks stupid. The only entity that looks stupid when something is done wrong is the person who knew better but did it wrong anyway.

speedwell2 November 17, 2004, 8:42am

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Yes, yes, I know there are exceptions. This might be one, but it depends on how you used the list in a sentence.

If you are referring to the programs as programs, then you would follow the US style above (assuming the remainder of your document follows US style). The sentence then would be something like:

The files I moved to the server were "Test.prg," "Test2.prg," and "Test3.prg."

But if you are referring to the NAMES of the programs AS names, you might write this:

In your personal directory, set up three files named "Test.prg", "Test2.prg", and "Test3.prg".

It's a subtle difference. It IS an exception to the US rule I stated above.

speedwell2 November 18, 2004, 8:35am

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Speedwell wrote: "'Test.prg,' 'Test2.prg,' and 'Test3.prg.' is correct standard American English."

First I thought that no way! But then I did some searching with Google, and:

"In the United Kingdom, Canada, and islands under the influence of British education, punctuation around quotation marks is more apt to follow logic. In American style, then, you would write: My favorite poem is Robert Frost's "Design." But in England you would write: My favorite poem is Robert Frost's "Design". The placement of marks other than periods and commas follows the logic that quotation marks should accompany (be right next to) the text being quoted or set apart as a title."

Well, well. Living is learning. I could've bet on it that it's not correct.

Perenna November 18, 2004, 5:56pm

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Actually, I'd use a slightly different approach here.

In technical documents, standard grammatical rules may be overridden by technical usage of symbols.
Here, the usual function of " as a quotation mark is overridden by its usage in a computing context - it is a delimiter, which is used to signify beginning and end of a string (in this case, file name).
Since the file name is "Test.prg", this is where the delimiters are to be placed. The necessity of keeping the filename intact overrides whatever grammatical rules might otherwise apply.
In other words, treat "Test.prg" (including the quotes) as an object that is, as a whole, inserted into the rest of the sentence, and place punctuation AROUND these objects as required.

Similarly, consider writing an essay about punctuation. You have to somehow differentiate between the symbols that you are talking about and the ones that constitute the essay's own punctuation. This is quite well accomplished by quotation marks.

1) ... symbols like ,, ., and ;.
2) ... symbols like ",," ".," and ";."
3) ... symbols like ",", ".", and ";".

The first one is completely illegible. The second one may in some sense be gramatically correct, but I hope everyone agrees that number three is clearly preferrable. Function takes precedence over form, to put it in a posh way :)

MM December 4, 2004, 4:25am

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Technical convention for the US types is to place other punctuation outside the quotation marks where it'd affect the meaning. One example is for the text editor 'vi', in which 'dd' is the command to delete an entire line of text. Should you tell them to "use the command 'dd.'", the fullstop tells the editor to do the last thing again - presumably not the desired behaviour in this instance.

Since extra punctuation will affect the filenames, it should be left outside quotes. "test_data.txt" can even violate case conventions, since Unix/Linux/BSD/etc filenames are case-sensitive. This extends to standard 'nix tools like grep, for which the names are always lowercase.

Persephone Imytholin January 22, 2005, 6:38am

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Anonymous March 22, 2005, 2:48pm

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Near the bottom of the link Perenna supplied you can read:
"*There are peculiar typographical reasons why the period and comma go inside the quotation mark in the United States. The following explanation comes from the "Frequently Asked Questions" file of alt.english.usage: "In the days when printing used raised bits of metal, "." and "," were the most delicate, and were in danger of damage (the face of the piece of type might break off from the body, or be bent or dented from above) if they had a '"' on one side and a blank space on the other. Hence the convention arose of always using '."' and ',"' rather than '".' and '",', regardless of logic." This seems to be an argument to return to something more logical, but there is little impetus to do so within the United States."

Language is a way to communicate. The purpose of communication is to be understood. To retain a rule stemming from some ancient typographical problems, a rule which without question makes communication less accurate, is stupid. Especially since it isn't, to my knowledge, used by anyone except Americans (I feel compelled to add 'as usual' here).
You Americans always have to be so special, don't you?
PS: Succumb to the metric system and just get it over with. ;)

slemmet March 27, 2005, 6:27pm

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Sure, as soon as you Brits start to drive on the correct side of the road. :))

speedwell2 March 28, 2005, 2:10am

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Good retort, had I been a Brit. But ok, you got the side of the road right, I'll give you that. I am sure though, had there been a third side of a road, you would drive on it, hehe...

slemmet March 28, 2005, 2:38pm

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Who, me? Um... yeah, that's how my partner thinks I drive, anyway. LOL

speedwell2 March 29, 2005, 5:06am

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Help please . . . I have been searching the net for a book or dictionary listing all grammatical symbols and their meanings. Could anyone direct me or recommend a book or website?

Greatly appreciated,


paulamu March 24, 2006, 3:43am

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There were a few other posts on this topic as well.

I seem to remember learning in gradeschool that if your quote ended a sentence then the period, exclamation point, etc. would be placed inside the final quote only if it was appropriate pucntuation for the quoted material itself without the rest of the sentence.

e.g., Which one of you said "I'll do it"?

The question mark should not be inside, since "I'll do it" is not a question. Is this correct?

I never even heard of putting commas inside the quotes and I'm American. You learn something every day. I must have been asleep that day in class.

porsche March 25, 2006, 11:13am

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Yes     No