March 13, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips, March 13, 2008, punctuation & quotes, forego or forgo?

Posted in forego or forgo?, forego/forgo, punctuation & quotes, quotes and punctuation at 8:22 pm by dlseltzer

For today’s tips, I’ve looked into my folder of suggestions and picked out a couple that come up all of the time. (One of these days, I’ll do an e-letter on “hyperbole.”)

Tip 1: Quotes and punctuation

When should punctuation go inside the quotations marks, and when should the punctuation go outside? Like much of American English language usage, the answer to this is partly based on logic but partly based on rules. Let’s get the rules out of the way first, since they are what they are.

Commas and periods always go inside the end quote:

EXAMPLE: “Today, we will discuss the correct method of diagnosing the restlessness that often accompanies malaise,” announced the preceptor.
“This proposed grant is designed to examine the age old issue of whether or not it is better “to put the cart before the horse.”

This is the rule for American English (the reason I use American English here, is because in British English, commas and periods go outside the quote–but we won’t belabor that now).

With regard to question marks and exclamation points, the answer is less straight forward; however, this is the logic part of the answer. If the punctuation is referring to the words within the quotation, it should go within the quotes. If the punctuation is referring to the whole sentence, it goes outside the quotes.

EXAMPLE: The journal questioned the authenticity of the writing, asking, “Is this the work of a highly educated scientist?”
Do you think that there is a more disturbing film than “The Life and Times of a U.S. President”?

The man was delirious with excitement; she said “yes”!

Keeping with our understanding that nothing is simple, it is also correct to write: She said “yes!” It depends on whether the emphasis is on the part of the writer or on the part of the person being quoted.

After some deliberation, she made up her mind, and once her mind was made up, there was no turning back. She said “yes!”

EXAMPLE: The technician shouted with joy, “We found the answer, we can now get published!”
This is an example of the perfect moment, when one is “head over heels in love”!

Tip 2: Forego and forgo

While seemingly simple, these words are often confused.

Forego means “go before” or “precede.”

EXAMPLE: The abstract forgoes the poster, then the article.
The foregone conclusion is that optimistic people are happier than pessimistic people.

Forgo means “abstain” or “do without.”

EXAMPLE: If we forgo the meeting, we can start writing sooner.

I’ve been trying to come up with an easy way to remember the difference between forego and forgo, but I haven’t been successful. Any ideas?



  1. dlseltzer said,

    a reader said:

    Today I referenced a prior issue of the language blog…thank you.

  2. dlseltzer said,

    a reader said,

    I love the WLUT!

  3. Hilary Peterson said,

    “I’ve been trying to come up with an easy way to remember the difference between forego and forgo, but I haven’t been successful. Any ideas?”

    How about “when you forgo, you do without the E”? Or the connection between the first part of “forego” and the word “before”?

  4. dlseltzer said,

    Missy said

    Since forego means “go before,” the forego is spelled like before (i.e., forego and before, both are fore!)

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