Editing Course, Grammar and Punctuation

Editing Course: Perfect Punctuation II

When editing manuscripts for books, it’s important to understand the use of inverted commas for speech, quotes and apostrophes.

Speech Marks: Single or Double?

We use speech marks (ie “…” or ‘…’) in novels, magazines and newspapers to indicate when a person is talking.

Different countries have their own standards when displaying speech marks. In Australia and England the standard is to use single inverted commas for adult fiction and non-fiction.

When using single speech marks (ie ‘…’) and you need to quote a section of text within the speech, the quoted section would use double speech marks (ie “…”). Example: ‘Jim told me “it would be better for everyone”, but I don’t agree with him.’

In contrast, many children’s publishers in Australia and England use double speech marks for dialogue in picture books and early readers.

Magazines and newspapers also have adopted the double speech marks, and use single speech marks for quoted sections with text. However, they use double speech marks for stand alone quotations.

It is recommended to authors to use double speech marks as it is easier to do a find and replace to change double to single than the other way round because of apostrophes.

Conventional Usage for Punctuation with Speech

Should the comma/full stop/question mark/exclamation mark be inside or outside the quotation marks? It’s not an easy question to answer as there is no definitive answer.

In America these marks always go inside the speech marks. In Australia and England it changes depending on the situation.

This is quoted from the Australian Style manual:

In North America it is conventional for closing quotation marks to follow commas, but to precede semi-colons and colons. In Britain the situation is not quite as simple, although it is more logical. If the quoted material would have contained the punctuation mark in the absence of any interruption, the punctuation mark stays inside the closing quotation marks. On the other hand, if the punctuation is part of the carrier sentence it follows the closing quotation mark.

For example, when the punctuation closes the entire carrier sentence, not just the dialogue:

Josie faced her husband and said, “James, I’m leaving you”.


“James, I’m leaving you,” said Josie, facing her husband.

Alternatively, when the punctuation is part of the dialogue:

Josie faced her husband. “James, I’m leaving you.”

Other Things to Remember

Thoughts: Never use inverted commas for speech as it will confuse the reader. They will be unable to determine if the characters are speaking or thinking. The standard convention is to use italics for thought.

Dialogue Breaks: This is not a universal rule, but generally a new paragraph should start whenever the dialogue changes to a different character. This is a clear indication that someone else is speaking. Some authors prefer to run the dialogue on in certain cases such as writing style, to show several people are talking at once or to speed the pace up.

Quote Marks: As with speech marks, the use of quote marks can vary from country to country. They can be single or double inverted commas, but they must be the opposite of speech marks when used to together. Style is an in-house preference and should be consistent.


Apostrophes are used in a range of text, such as when contracting two words into one (“it’s” for “it is”), for showing singular possession (Tim’s pen) and plural possession (Jones’s car).

There is a rule for when using apostrophes with names ending in “s”. If the word has one syllable (eg James) then you would add the extra “s” (eg James’s book). If the word has two or more syllables (eg Collins), you would not add the extra “s” (eg Collins’ house).

Many people ignore this rule and use only one “s” all the time as they prefer this method.

Knowing when to use an apostrophe when it comes to time can be tricky. The rule, however, is quite simple. For day, month and year the apostrophe is only used when referring to one of them, but is not used when referring to more than one. Examples are:

One day’s salary
Five days experience
One month’s anniversary
Ten months old
One year’s weather pattern
Twenty years weather pattern

Other Things to Remember

Ellipsis Points: When text is omitted from the start three full stops (ellipsis points) followed by a space are used before the rest of the text.

Example: … as can be seen here.

When omitting text from the end of a sentence you insert a space followed by the ellipsis points.

Example: “Did you mean …?” Pat gasped.

When used in the middle of a sentence the use of ellipsis points can indicate one of two things, words have been omitted or hesitancy. The ellipsis points would have a space before and after them.

Example: “Oh … I … didn’t mean that.”

In some countries the ellipsis may be spaced out (. . .) with or without a space before and after the points.

Salutations: The standard is not to use punctuation after salutations.

Example: Mr Smith rather than Mr. Smith

Greetings: The standard is the same as for salutations, not to use punctuation.

Example: Dear John rather than Dear John,


Yours sincerely rather than Yours sincerely,

Working on Punctuation

Copyeditors and proofreaders need to be focused when working on documents with lots of dialogue as the mind picks up what it should see, not always what is there.

To develop loyal clients, it is important to slow down and put extra effort into punctuation. It is important to hand back a thorough job instead of a job that still has lots of uncorrected mistakes. If you do this, the client will not come back to you again and they certainly won’t recommend you to others.

Important Note: No matter what the standard, it is all about consistency. If punctuation is used throughout the entire document in a certain way then check with the client prior to marking it up as it might be an in-house preference and not considered an error at all.


2 thoughts on “Editing Course: Perfect Punctuation II”

  1. Currently under Other Things to Remember, you have the following: ‘Thoughts: Never use inverted commas for speech as it will confuse the reader.’
    I think you meant ‘Never use inverted comments for thoughts…’ Otherwise it doesn’t make sense. You may wish to correct this.

  2. It’s actually correct how it is, although I do agree a little confusing. ‘Inverted commas’ is another name for quotation marks, also known as speech marks. It’s not a common use anymore, but that’s how the course topic referred to them so I carried that over into my notes.

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