Opinion: quotation marks

Last week we discussed preferred styles of parenthetical dash. You might be interested to know that the use of spaced en rules is currently winning (at 58% of votes). The poll is still open if you would like to join in!

Quote marksThis week I would like to ask you the following:

Do you prefer single or double quotation marks for ordinary use?

This might be a difficult question to choose one answer for, so please let me know your thoughts in the comments. It’s also worth recognising that we have to use single and double when quotations within quotations occur.

Single with double inside is usually the preferred British style:

‘Do you know what a “stickleback” is?’

While double with single inside is usually the preferred American style:

“Do you know what a ‘stickleback’ is?”

I believe Canadians and Australians tend to prefer doubles and South Africans tend to prefer singles – is that your experience?

I am British but I prefer double quotation marks, particularly because they help to avoid any confusion if the quoted matter contains an apostrophe. However, single quotation marks are typically regarded as easier to read on a screen. As usual, I’d love to know what you think!


  • New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide
  • The Penguin Guide to Punctuation
  • Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage

Opinion: parenthetical dashes

Last week we discussed the use of serial commas. I was slightly surprised to find the poll currently shows that 60% of respondents agree with my stance – I thought the ‘always use serial commas’ camp would win it. The poll is still open if you would like to join in.

Dash2My blog’s style sheet is beginning to take shape, but I have another style decision to put to you:

Do you prefer parenthetical content to be marked by en rules or em rules? (If you have opted for dashes instead of commas or brackets.)

My preference is to mark it with spaced en rules like this:

The paint – a horrible shade of green – dripped on the carpet.

But it is also common to mark it with closed up em rules like this:

The paint—a horrible shade of green—dripped on the carpet.

I think spaced en rules look cleaner, and many British publishers use them. However, most US publishers use closed up em rules.

What do you think? It’s poll time! (Please vote – it makes me happy.)


  • New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide

Opinion: serial commas

CommaI have a confession to make: I haven’t put together a style guide for posts I make on this blog. The consistency of style leaves a lot to be desired. It’s time to take my own advice and develop a style sheet.

And I would be very interested to receive your opinions on what you would like to see. Do you prefer a certain style? Do you find some style choices distract you or make the content harder to understand?

I’m going to start with punctuation and perhaps one of the most controversial of style differences – the serial comma. The serial comma is also referred to as the Oxford comma or the Harvard comma.

The serial comma is the comma that follows the penultimate item in a list of three or more things and comes before the and or or:

I like cake, biscuits, and ice cream.

I don’t think it is necessary there. It isn’t serving a meaningful purpose (in my opinion). The sentence could be punctuated as below and make perfect sense:

I like cake, biscuits and ice cream.

However, I would use a serial comma here:

The restaurant serves chocolate cake, cookies and ice cream, and mango sorbet.

My preference is to only use serial commas when they help to avoid ambiguity. But what do you think? Please vote in the poll below and/or leave a comment. Thank you!