Breaking up words and URLs at the end of a line

Earlier, we talked about soft hyphens vs. hard hyphens (see my post on hyphens).

Hard hyphens are permanent (as in the word twenty-five); soft hyphens are used only at the end of a line to break up a word.

Here are some principles to keep in mind when breaking up words at the end of a line:

• don’t break up a word so that only one letter occurs by itself

    not:
    a-
    bove

• try to break up a compound word where there’s already a hard hyphen without adding a second, soft hyphen

    not:
    three-quar-
    ters

    but:
    three-
    quarters

• never break up single-syllable words

    not:
    gasp-
    ed

(even though it has two parts, gasp and -ed, gasped is pronounced as one syllable)

• break up words at a syllable break

    not:
    dram-
    atic

    but:
    dra-
    matic

Some dictionaries indicate where words may be divided. For example, the Canadian Oxford Dictionary uses dots:

    eu•phem•ism

URLs

Because each character in a website address is crucial, URLs have their own set of rules for where you may break them. Here’s an overview:

1) for starters, never insert a hyphen in a URL

So, while you can break up a URL at the end of a line, you never add a hyphen when you do so. The reason is that it creates confusion whether the hyphen is part of the URL or not.

2) break a URL after a colon (:), a slash (/), a double slash (//), or @

Likely, people will realize that this is not the end of the URL address and continue reading on to the next line.

3) break a URL before a period or any other punctuation mark or symbol

This is to avoid giving the impression that the URL ends at the end of the first line.

4) if the URL already contains a hyphen, never break after the hyphen; you may break before the hyphen

Again, the reason is to avoid ambiguity whether the hyphen is part of the URL or not.

5) if you have a long stretch of text, break at a syllable break

Ready for a test?

Which of the following URLs have been broken up correctly? (The first line has the unbroken URL; below that is the URL broken up.)

(a) URL: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org

(b) URL: http://www.sil.org:8090/silebr/2012/silebr2012-007

(c) URL: https://reviewediting.wordpress.com/

(d) URL: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/?CTT=97

(e) URL: http://www.wycliffe.ca/wordalive/

(f) URL: http://www.weatheroffice.gc.ca/city/pages/bc-81_metric_e.html

(g) URL: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=acts %2012&version=KJV

Answers:

(a) is incorrect: break should come before the period

(b) is correct: break occurs after colon

(c) is incorrect: never add a hyphen when breaking up a URL (without the hyphen the break would be OK because it occurs at a syllable boundary)

(d) is incorrect: break should come before the hyphen, never after the hyphen

(e) is correct: break occurs before the period

(f) is correct: break occurs before the underline

(g) is incorrect: break should come after slash

Dirk

dirk_kievit@editors.ca
www.DirkKievit.org

(Image at top courtesy of Free Digital Photos. Please understand that I cannot vouch for the appropriateness of all images on that site.)

Punctuation: “Inside,” or “outside”, that’s the question

Which one is correct, (a) or (b)?

    (a) Leadership is like parenting . . . “do as I do” is much more compelling than “do as I say.”

    (b) Leadership is like parenting . . . “do as I do” is much more compelling than “do as I say”.

The difference may be small but it’s important: does the final punctuation mark (in this case a period) go inside the quotation marks, as in (a), or outside, as in (b)?

We’ll address that question today.

Two methods

When it comes to quotation marks, there are in fact two methods of punctuation: American style and British style.

In American style (which we also follow here in Canada), commas and periods go inside the quotation marks, as in these examples:

    “We Gypsies are a poor people,” Pastor Walter explained.

    In John 3:16 it is “for,” in 2:17 “indeed,” in 3:19 “because,” in 3:24 “of course,” in 3:34 it is left untranslated.

    Leadership begins with “being” but ultimately turns to “doing.”

Semicolons always go outside of the quotation marks. Thus, the second sentence above could also have been written as follows:

    In John 3:16, it is “for”; in 2:17, “indeed”; in 3:19, “because”; in 3:24, “of course”; in 3:34, it is left untranslated.

When it comes to question marks and exclamation marks, their placement depends on whether they were in the original quote. If they belong to the sentence being quoted, they go inside the quotation marks, as in these examples:

    The fundamental question for leaders is, “How can I move people to do what needs to be done?”

    Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!”

Contrast that with these examples (and yes, as you can see, I’m also a parent):

    How many times have I told you already “Go to bed”?

    I don’t want to hear you say at bedtime “I’m still hungry”!

British style differs from American style in the placement of the commas and periods. It places these outside the quotation marks. (British style also uses single quotation marks rather than double quotation marks, reserving double quotation marks for quotations inside quotations.) So, to go back to the examples above, British style would punctuate these as follows:

    ‘We Gypsies are a poor people’, Pastor Walter explained.

    In John 3:16 it is ‘for’, in 2:17 ‘indeed’, in 3:19 ‘because’, in 3:24 ‘of course’, in 3:34 it is left untranslated.

    Leadership begins with ‘being’ but ultimately turns to ‘doing’.

British style is followed in the UK and in the Commonwealth countries (though not in Canada).

Knowing your audience

So, to come back to our initial question as to which one was correct, the answer is: It all depends!

If you’re writing for an American audience, you’ll want to follow (a); if you’re writing for a British audience, you’ll want to follow (b).

Here is a good illustration of the importance of defining your audience as a writer (or editor). (See my earlier post.) I just helped edit a newsletter for a Bible translation organization in Papua New Guinea. Since Papua New Guinea is a Commonwealth country, we (the local editors and myself) decided to use British spelling and follow the British style of punctuation.

If you’re editing for an international organization, and especially if the publication is going to be posted online, you may have some flexibility depending on the author’s own preferences.

In any case, remember the Golden Rule of Editing – be consistent throughout your document – and follow either the American or British style of punctuation throughout.

Happy writing (and punctuating)!
Dirk

dirk_kievit@editors.ca
www.dirkkievit.org

(Image at top courtesy of Free Digital Photos. Please understand that I cannot vouch for the appropriateness of all images on that site.)

Commas with descriptive phrases

Welcome back to my blog. Today’s lesson is commas and how to use them when you have two ways of referring to the same person or place.

Let’s start with a warm-up exercise and you’ll see what I mean.

(By the way, all my examples today are taken from today’s news stories from various online sources.)

Insert commas in the following sentences where needed. (Some sentences may not need any commas.)

    1) Science fiction author Ray Bradbury dead at 91.

    2) David travels to Sendai the city nearest the epicenter of the quake where he witnesses the dynamic relationship between science and nature.

    3) The suspect a Caucasian man in his 40s stomped out of the store and drove away in his blue Ford pickup truck.

    4) The storm quickly tracked north, said CBC Calgary meteorologist Danielle Savoni.

    5) Ray Bradbury a giant of American literature who helped popularize science fiction with works such as “The Martian Chronicles” died on Tuesday at age 91.

In each of these examples, a person or place is described in two different ways: often a proper name and some kind of descriptive phrase. For example, in sentence (1), which is the heading of an article, the topic of the story is described both by his proper name (Ray Bradbury) and by a descriptive phrase (science fiction author).

Let’s review the rules for using commas in such situations.

Rule 1: If the title or descriptive phrase precedes the proper name or main phrase, do not use commas.

This applies to examples (1) and (4) above, where a descriptive phrase or title precedes the name.

    Science fiction author Ray Bradbury dead at 91.

    The storm quickly tracked north, said CBC Calgary meteorologist Danielle Savoni.

Here are two more examples, both correctly punctuated without commas:

    I think we’ve played some good hockey and the bounces haven’t gone our way,” said Devils forward David Clarkson.

    “We think the new phones can compete against cheap Android models,” said Pohjola analyst Hannu Rauhala.

Rule 2: If the title or descriptive phrase follows the personal name or the main phrase, use a comma before and after the phrase.

This applies to examples (2) and (5) above.

    David travels to Sendai, the city nearest the epicenter of the quake, where he witnesses the dynamic relationship between science and nature.

    Ray Bradbury, a giant of American literature who helped popularize science fiction with works such as “The Martian Chronicles,” died on Tuesday at age 91.

It also applies to example (3) where the person is identified simply as “the suspect” and further described as “a Caucasian man in his 40s.”

    The suspect, a Caucasian man in his 40s, stomped out of the store and drove away in his blue Ford pickup truck.

Of course, if the descriptive phrase comes at the end of the sentence, close it with a period rather than a comma, as is done in this example:

    Bradbury published more than 500 works including “Fahrenheit 451,” a classic novel about book censorship in a future society.

Bonus question:

News editors don’t always get it right.

What’s wrong with these sentences? (The first one is a caption that appeared with a photo.)

    David in conversation with his friend, Keibo Oiwa, cultural anthropologist, writer and a keen observer of Japanese life.

    Singer John Mayer … said he was “really humiliated” by the song “Dear John,” written by his former girlfriend country-pop star Taylor Swift.

(See answer below.)

Dirk

dirk_kievit@editors.ca
www.dirkkievit.org

(Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Please understand that I cannot vouch for the appropriateness of all images on that site.)

Answer to bonus question:

In the first sentence, the comma before the proper name should be removed. Correctly punctuated, the sentence should read:

    David in conversation with his friend Keibo Oiwa, cultural anthropologist, writer and a keen observer of Japanese life.

(The phrase “cultural anthropologist, writer and a keen observer of Japanese life” also describes Keibo Oiwa and since it follows the proper name, it is properly separated from the proper name by a comma.)

In the second sentence, a comma should appear after girlfriend. Correctly punctuated, the sentence should read:

    Singer John Mayer … said he was “really humiliated” by the song “Dear John,” written by his former girlfriend, country-pop star Taylor Swift.

The main phrase “country-pop star Taylor Swift” is correctly punctuated without a comma: the descriptive phrase “country-pop star” precedes the proper name. But this whole phrase describes the phrase “former girlfriend” and should, therefore, be set apart with a comma.

Ellipsis

Sometimes when you’re quoting someone else you may not want to quote a whole sentence or paragraph. That’s when you will want to call on the ellipsis. (The word ellipsis comes from the Greek word meaning “to leave out.”)

The form

First a note about the form. The ellipsis consists of three dots with or without spaces between them:

    In the beginning God created … the earth.
    In the beginning God created . . . the earth.

Either way, there’s always a space before the first dot and after the last dot. So whichever way you choose (and make sure you stick with your choice throughout your document—if there’s one thing editors hate, it’s inconsistency!), don’t do this:

    In the beginning God created…the earth.
    In the beginning God created. . .the earth.

To insert an ellipsis in your document, use the shortcut Ctr+. (hold down the Control key and type a period).

We’ll use the following two paragraphs as our original to work with today*:

    A great way in which to do this on a consistent basis is to surround yourself with like-minded people who are already well down the pathway you have chosen to take. The more of these positive and supportive people you have in your life, the faster you’ll be able to proceed towards your dreams. I call these people dream-supporters.

    Dream-stealers do their best to steal your energy and your confidence by distracting you with reasons why not to do something, while dream-supporters conspire to help you make it happen.

Different methods exist for using the ellipsis. Here I will discuss what is known as the three-or-four-dot method.

The rules

1) Use three dots when the ellipsis occurs in the middle of a sentence:

    A great way … is to surround yourself with like-minded people who are already well down the pathway you have chosen to take.

Here the ellipsis indicates that part of the sentence has been omitted.

2) Use four dots when you omit an entire sentence or more than one sentence. In this case, the first dot is actually a period and is followed by a space.

    A great way in which to do this on a consistent basis is to surround yourself with like-minded people who are already well down the pathway you have chosen to take. … I call these people dream-supporters.

Here the period followed by the ellipsis indicates that an entire sentence has been omitted. Note that we keep the period before the ellipsis and that we still have a space before and after the ellipsis. If the first sentence had ended in a question mark or an exclamation mark, we would have used that mark instead of the period before the ellipsis.

3) Capitalize the first word after the ellipsis that begins a new sentence, even if it’s not capitalized in the original.

    A great way in which to do this on a consistent basis is to surround yourself with like-minded people who are already well down the pathway you have chosen to take. … Dream-supporters conspire to help you make it happen.

Note here that we have omitted the first part of the last sentence and so we have capitalized “dream-supporters.”

4) If you don’t quote the entire sentence before the ellipsis, you can cut it off earlier but be sure to still add a period (or whatever the sentence-final punctuation mark was).

    A great way in which to do this on a consistent basis is to surround yourself with like-minded people. … I call these people dream-supporters.

Here we have deleted the last part of the first sentence but we have simply moved up the period of the sentence and put it after “people.” Note that the part before the ellipsis is still a complete sentence.

5) If you omit the first part of a paragraph, use three dots and indent the paragraph. (Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out yet how to indent paragraphs on this blog.)

    … Surround yourself with like-minded people who are already well down the pathway you have chosen to take. The more of these positive and supportive people you have in your life, the faster you’ll be able to proceed towards your dreams. I call these people dream-supporters.

Note that we removed the first part of the sentence. We still have a complete sentence but since “surround” now begins the sentence we have capitalized it.

6) If you omit an entire paragraph, use four dots (a period followed by the ellipsis) at the end of the paragraph before the omission.

    A great way in which to do this on a consistent basis is to surround yourself with like-minded people who are already well down the pathway you have chosen to take. The more of these positive and supportive people you have in your life, the faster you’ll be able to proceed towards your dreams. I call these people dream-supporters. …

    By the end of this book, you’ll know the key action steps and turning points that these successful investors used to start living their dream.

Here the ellipsis indicates that one or more paragraphs have been omitted.

7) Do not use an ellipsis if you are omitting the first or last part of a quotation. This is especially relevant to Bible verses. Let’s say you’re quoting this verse:

    Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. (Matthew 6:13)

You could say that Jesus taught that “the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction” (Matthew 6:13). There is no need to use an ellipsis at the beginning or end of the quotation.

A final warning

Ellipsis is a means of indicating that you have omitted part of a quotation in order to focus on that part of the message you want to highlight. But be careful that you remain true to what the original author intended. For example, although the following quotation is taken word-for-word from the original, it manages to contradict what the author actually said.

    A great way in which to do this on a consistent basis is to surround yourself … down the pathway you have chosen to take … with reasons why not to do something.

If you’re an editor and have access to the original source, it may be a good idea to check and make sure the author has preserved the original meaning when using an ellipsis.

To your writing success!
Dirk

dirk_kievit@editors.ca
www.dirkkievit.org

For further uses of the ellipsis, see the Chicago Manual of Style (sections 11.51–79 in the 15th edition and 13.48–13.58 in the 16th edition).

(Image at top courtesy of Free Digital Photos. Please understand that I cannot vouch for the appropriateness of all images on that site.)

___________________________

*Quotation taken from Campbell, Don R. 2008. 51 Success Stories from Canadian Real Estate Investors. Mississauga, Ont: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd. p. x.

Who’s your target? The importance of defining your audience.

I’m back from Texas where I participated in an SIL editors’ orientation last week.

My topic today is: Defining your audience. Or, to put it differently, who’s your target?

Just like a picture that’s sharp and well-focused, a document that has a clear target will communicate better than one where the target is fuzzy.

If you’re working on a document right now—it could, for example, be a blog post, a CV, a letter to your local newspaper, or a pie recipe—ask yourself this important question: Who am I writing this for? This will determine what you write and how you write it.

In fact, your document may have several layers of readers. That was the case with the dictionary I just edited for a Bible translator on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. The main target was fellow Bible translators working in the Pacific island country.

But, since the dictionary was going to be published online, a secondary target was other linguists as well as non-linguistic experts who are interested in the languages of the region.

Not all of these people may be familiar with the geography of Vanuatu. So for the benefit of those who are not, I, as the editor, suggested some changes to the author, such as this one:

“people by the volcano say…” >
“people by Mount Yasur Volcano in the southeast say…”

Apparently, everyone on Tanna (and maybe in Vanuatu) knows about this famous volcano. But other readers may not share this knowledge, so for their benefit we decided to spell out the name and location of the volcano.

If you’re an editor, ask the author early on who his target audiences are and read the document with the various kinds of audiences in mind. Then suggest to the author any changes that may be needed.

As a writer, define your target audience early on and your writing will be crisp and clear.

Your fellow writer,
Dirk

dirk_kievit@editors.ca
www.dirkkievit.org

(Image at top courtesy of Free Digital Photos.)

Apostrophe catastrophe-part 2

Let’s start today with a warm-up exercise. Rewrite these phrases following the example in the first line.

the office of the doctor -> the doctor’s office
the headquarters of the franchise ->
the epistle of James ->
the experiences of other people ->
the opinions of the experts ->
the nursery of the children ->

Today’s topic is the apostrophe and how we use it to show possession.

(If you haven’t read my previous post, you may want to do so first.)

singular nouns

In the singular, the simple rule is: add an apostrophe plus s.

the judge’s gavel
the boss’s wife

Some people don’t add an s if the word already ends in an s sound but that’s your choice. So, both of these are acceptable:

Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

plural nouns

To show possession in the plural, the same rule applies: add an apostrophe plus s.

Only this time, what was optional before is now mandatory: if the word already ends in an s (as many plural nouns do, of course), we never add another s.

all the deer (plural) -> all the deer’s antlers
the two customers -> the two customers’ complaints

It’s irregular nouns and personal names where we see so many “apostrophe catastrophes.” Just keep in mind this simple formula:

(1) make the noun plural -> (2) make the noun possessive

This is how it works:

mouse -> mice -> the mice’s droppings
person -> people -> the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Kievit -> the Kievits -> the Kievits’ newsletter

quiz-time

Now that you’ve mastered the English possessive, can you correct these washroom signs I saw the other day?

The one sign said ladies and the other sign said mens.

If ladies refers to more than one lady, then mens must be more than one men, right?

Can you fix these two signs (ladies and mens) using apostrophes? Send in your answer using the comment feature below (click on the word comments at the end of this message below my signature) or e-mail me at dirk_kievit@editors.ca. Along with your answer, try to explain your corrections.

And before you go, here are the answers for our warm-up exercise:

the office of the doctor -> the doctor’s office
the headquarters of the franchise -> the franchise’s headquarters
the epistle of James -> James’s epistle
the experiences of other people -> other people’s experiences
the opinions of the experts -> the experts’ opinions
the nursery of the children -> the children’s nursery

Till next time.

Dirk

dirk_kievit@editors.ca
www.dirkkievit.org

(Image at top courtesy of Keattikom.)

Apostrophe catastrophe-part 1

If you think my title is an exaggeration, think again. Here are two real-life examples I witnessed recently:

We help British Columbian’s.
Hope its your bird.

The apostrophe must be the most abused piece of punctuation so I’m going to devote two posts to it. Today we’ll talk about plurals and its versus it’s.

Plurals

We can be very quick: to make something plural, you never use an apostrophe and s—not even if it’s a proper noun (that is, a name).

Here are some examples:

British Columbians (as in ‘we help British Columbians’)
Josiahs (as in ‘there are three Josiahs in our church’)
the Kievits (as in ‘the Kievits are late again’)

The words that tend to trip people up are ones ending in the letter o. Do you know the plurals of these?

tomato
rodeo
potato
photo
tuxedo
zero
hero
portfolio

Here are the answers: tomatoes, rodeos, potatoes, photos, tuxedos/tuxedoes, zeros/zeroes, heroes, portfolios.

The general rule is that if there’s a vowel before the o, add -s. Otherwise, it’s usually safe to add -es. But, of course, there are plenty of exceptions, so check a dictionary to be sure.

But whatever you do, don’t ever add an apostrophe and s to make a word plural. You can’t eat tomato’s or upload photo’s.

Its or it’s

This is doubtlessly the most confused pair of words in the English language.

Just remember this simple rule: if you can replace the word with it is or it has, use it’s; otherwise use its.

It’s a nice day. (It is a nice day.)
Its feathers are white.
It’s been ages since we last talked. (It has been ages since we last talked.)
Do you know its owner?

Next time we’ll continue this discussion by looking at possessives.

In the meantime, watch your apostrophes. We don’t want to see another apostrophe catastrophe!

Do you have an example of an apostrophe violation you’ve come across? Leave me a comment.

Dirk

dirk_kievit@editors.ca
www.dirkkievit.org

(Image at top courtesy of sottchan.)

Numbers: Numerals or words?

Numbers can be expressed either as numerals (539; 4.49; 3,689) or as words (four, seventeen).* When do you use which?

Here are the general rules†:

1) spell out the numbers one through hundred

2) spell out round numbers with hundreds, thousands, hundred thousands, millions

So you would use:

seventy-eight; 3,589; 762; three million

However, percentages always take numerals:

25% or 25 percent
not: twenty-five percent or twenty-five %

(Note that there is no space in 25%.)

In fact, abbreviations always take numerals:

42°F
5’6”
47¢ (and not .47¢—unless of course you really mean less than half a cent!)

On the other hand, numbers with centuries are always spelled out:

the twenty-first century
not: the 21st century

Finally, there’s a third general rule that’s often flouted:

3) don’t begin a sentence with a numeral

Thus, you will want to avoid something like this:

97 Tips for Canadian Real Estate Investors is a national bestseller.

You could change this to:

Ninety-seven Tips for Canadian Real Estate Investors is a national bestseller.

Another solution (which avoids tampering with the actual title of the book) is to recast the sentence so it doesn’t start with the number:

Don Campbell’s 97 Tips for Canadian Real Estate Investors is a national bestseller.

Following these three simple rules will help you steer clear of 90 percent of the potholes with numbers!

Dirk

dirk_kievit@editors.ca
www.dirkkievit.org

*I am using the word numeral in the restricted sense that the Chicago Manual of Style uses it as non-spelled out forms. Other references (like the Canadian Oxford Dictionary) use the word numeral to refer to both the spelled out and non-spelled out forms.

†taken from the Chicago Manual of Style chapter 9

(Image at top courtesy of scottchan.)

Hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes

Here’s a sign I saw yesterday at a church:

We are saved by grace -not by works.

The theology may be sound but the punctuation sure is lacking.

My topic today is the difference between hyphens (-), en dashes (–), and em dashes (—).*

1. Hyphens

Hyphens are the most common of the three. Soft hyphens are the ones we use to break words at the end of a line. Hard hyphens are the ones we use in compound words and expressions, regardless of where in the sentence they occur. Here are some examples of hard hyphens:

twenty-three
sister-in-law
a down-to-earth approach

2. En dashes

En dashes are a little longer than hyphens. They are used mostly between numbers to indicate ‘up to’ as in these examples:

10:30–11:30 a.m.
pages 37–45
2010–2012

By the way, a common mistake is to use an en dash with a preposition, like this:

from 10:30–11:30 a.m.

You could correct this by using either two prepositions or none at all:

10:30–11:30 a.m.
from 10:30 until 11:30 a.m.

3. Em dashes

Finally, em dashes are the longest of the three. They are used to add another idea to a sentence. Sometimes two are used together similar to the way we use parentheses, as in this example from my April newsletter:

A hundred years ago this month—on April 15, 1912—the Titanic sank off the coast of Canada.

Note that em dashes are also usually used without any spaces.

Now, if we return to my initial example at the top, you’ll see that a hyphen was used where an em dash should have been used (and with a space before but not after it, which added to the confusion). Correctly punctuated, the sentence would read:

We are saved by grace—not by works.

Good punctuation improves readability. Take care with your hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes.

Dirk

dirk_kievit@editors.ca
www.DirkKievit.org

*Note: You can find all three of them in Word under Insert/Symbols/Special Characters. For other ways of inserting them, see this article.

(Image at top courtesy of scottchan.)

Questions inside sentences

Here’s one of those things that tend to trip me up: questions inside sentences, where the questions are not direct quotes.

Quotes, of course, we can handle well enough, as with the following example:

She asked me, “How do you punctuate this sentence?”

But how would you punctuate the following sentence, which contains a direct question that is not a quote?

the question is how do you punctuate this sentence

Should there be a question mark at the end of the sentence? Should the question part be in italics? In quotation marks? Should there be a comma—or maybe a colon—before “how”? Should “how” be capitalized?

Here’s what the experts say (I’m referring to the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed.):

1) When you have a direct question that is part of a sentence (as in my example), introduce it with a comma and end it with a question mark. Don’t use italics.

The question is, how do you punctuate this sentence?

2) The question itself shouldn’t start with a capital letter unless it’s a long question and/or the question itself has punctuation.

So in the following example we might want to capitalize the word how because (a) the question is quite long; and (b) the question itself contains punctuation (in this case what’s called an em-dash: —):

The question is, How do you punctuate this sentence—with a capital or with a lower case letter at the beginning?

Finally, bear in mind that all of the above applies only to direct questions—those that can stand on their own. Indirect questions, on the other hand, are simply written as part of the sentence, as in the following example:

The question is how you punctuate this sentence.

Here, the part “how you punctuate this sentence” cannot stand on its own. It’s an indirect question, and so we don’t introduce it with a comma or end it with a question mark.

In fact, Chicago suggests that if the direct question looks awkward, you might consider rephrasing the sentence so that it has an indirect question and you don’t have to worry about the whole thing at all.

But then I wonder, what should I be writing about instead?

Have you wondered how to punctuate questions inside sentences (that’s an indirect question inside a direct question—go figure)? Do you have any examples you can share and how you ended up punctuating them?

Any other punctuation/spelling/grammar conundrums you’d like me to write about while the Chicago Manual of Style is still fresh on my mind? Leave a comment.

Dirk

dirk_kievit@editors.ca
www.DirkKievit.org

For more information, see Chicago Manual of Style (16h ed.), par. 6.52. Sign up for a free 30-day online trial at http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html.

(Image at top courtesy of scottchan.)