Rules For School

by limebirdster

I got into a bit of a debate about speech marks when I was in a school recently which reminded me of something that happened in an editing class at Uni. At Uni my lecturer was saying that you should only ever use the ‘single’ speech mark when writing, you never use “these.” At school the teacher was telling the class to use “these” in their stories and not the ‘single’ equivalent.

I mentioned the conversation with my lecturer to the teacher and we went around the classroom picking up every book we passed and checking them for speech marks. Every book in the classroom agreed with my lecturer, though out of the twelve books beside my bed right now, two of them do use “these.” It does appear though that most books use single speech marks rather than double.

But I remember being taught to use 66 and 99 at school as well. And I used them in writing right up until my second year of uni when my lecturer went on a rant about the correct use of speech marks. I mentioned that I’d been told the opposite but when she asked who told me I couldn’t remember. It turns out that everyone had told me, every teacher who had ever taught me writing when I was at school taught 66 and 99. I remember drawing the biggest speech marks my lines would allow when my handwriting was still terrible and I was determined to draw a full 6 and not just a boring old line in the corner.

We were also taught at school to never use a comma after the word and. This was another debate that I had with the teacher when I was in school, because he taught the same thing. But then the Oxford comma would always be wrong and while many people don’t use the Oxford comma, it does somewhat clarify the meaning of this sentence –

In her free time she enjoys cooking, her children and dog.

So is there anything that you were taught in school that you had to re-learn for writing? Any rules that always applied when you were younger and learning how to write that weren’t quite as steadfast as you were taught?


33 Comments to “Rules For School”

  1. So, what is the speech mark verdict. Now I’m all confused. I always use ” and ” for quotations, now I’m doubting myself. Cry! Also, I am pro Oxford comma!

    • Like Beth, I always use “doubles” for speech and for quotes, but I am aware of the debate around the correctness. According to Wikipedia though – “Double quotes are preferred in the United States, and also tend to be preferred in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Single quotes are more usual in the United Kingdom and South Africa”. And yet both Beth and I are in the UK and use doubles! I was always taught doubles at school and I haven’t had any uni classes that involved this subject, so I’ve always stuck with doubles!

      I too am pro Oxford comma, I definitely feel it can add clarity in a list.

  2. Nice post 🙂 One of the things I love about being an Indie is that we can choose our formatting. For the reason you point out there (what you were taught at school), I always publish my books with direct speech in double quotation marks, and quotes within direct speech in single marks. Nearly all of the trad-published books I read use the reverse. I think either is fine as long as the use is consistent throughout the text.
    Regarding the Oxford comma, I don’t understand why people go so exercsied about it: if it makes the sentence easier to understand, use it; otherwise, don’t.

  3. I am in the UK too and I always use 66 and 99 when writing conversation and then the single speech marks if I am using it as a ‘quote’ for example. No idea if that’s right or not, to be honest can’t remember what I was taught at school, I’ve just kind of gone with my in-built grammar. And I always use commas….! 🙂

    • I’m pretty sure that will be what you were taught in school if you went to school in the UK Jade, it’s only after school that things get confusing! lol

  4. In school they often teach a rule as always simply because it causes less confusion for those who don’t get it. My students tell me all the time that they’ve been taught they can never start a sentence with And or Because, that they should never use contractions, that third person is always right. I believe the quote issue is a UK vs US usage. Both are fine for me as a reader. What I hate is when there are no speech marks! I love Cormac McCarthy, but that quirk makes it hard to follow the dialogue sometimes.
    The best advice I have for these situations is pick one style and be consistent. Your reader will follow along. If the writing is for academia, find out the style the class is using: APA, MLA, AP. Profs often take off major points if you don’t follow the correct style.

    • I think you’re right there, the two books by my bed that disagreed with my lecturer were both American!

  5. Showing my ignorance here, what is an “Oxford” comma? Isn’t a comma a comma? LOL now that sounds funny. Comma. Comma!

  6. I’m American, and I admit I truly dislike a single speech mark to denote spoken dialogue. I use it mainly for emphasis in a format where I don’t have the ability to italicize my fonts, or to show a quote in a dialogue, but I always use doubles for character dialogues.

    • That’s interesting, as a Brit I have to admit the opposite, I don’t like doubles and only use them for emphasis! I guess we just do things the other way around – like sides of the road for driving!

  7. As an American, I got “these,” not ‘these,” and the Oxford comma. I can’t say that there is anything that I’ve had to relearn as a writer, although there are rules that I quite consciously break.

  8. The U.S. uses doubles for dialogue quotes and all other “special” words. If we nest a quote within a quote the internal quote is set off using singles.

    As far as the serial (Oxford) comma is concerned, it’s considered a style issue with the exception made for clarity. I prefer the serial comma in most instances. Many editors get paid to create style sheets for organizations so that every publication created by the org is consistent with “house style.” So when I take on a project for a new client, I ask if they have a style sheet.

  9. I don’t have enough time to name them all. My two favorites? Never writing in fragments. Never starting a sentence with But or Because. LOL. There are so many things that grammar hounds despise that make for more compelling writing and flow.

    • The never writing in fragments rule was another thing that came up in the same lesson, I restrained myself from commenting on it though as it really would have confused the kids! They were taught a formula for a sentance and couldn’t accept that anything without a noun in it was a proper sentence!

      You’re right Kourtney, there’s no point getting bogged down in rules when it’s going to disrupt your writing!

  10. I use “these.” I just looked at 5 books sitting beside me and four use “these.”
    Very interesting. I hadn’t thought about the preference.
    I was taught never to start a sentence with but, but I see it often. 🙂

  11. I recently read a novel published in the UK. Singles all the way. At first I wondered if the shift key was broken on the keyboard but then I GOT IT.

    Commas are necessary, and helpful in a series but recently I have become confused because it’s acceptable to use a comma before the last ‘and’ (when talking about a series).

  12. I am definitely in the Oxford comma camp!

    As for ” v ‘

    I’m a Brit and was taught “66 and 99″ as a kid. However, now, I use ” for “out loud speech” and ‘ for ‘inner dialogue’. Whether or not it is correct – it works for me!

    Something that I have recently come to grips with is granddad (or mum, or dad etc.) which was explained to me by a really good poetry magazine editor.

    I love my granddad.

    I walked in and there was Granddad.

    I love my mum.

    “You can’t do that Mum, it’s gross!”

  13. I’m on the UK side and was taught the 66 and 99 in school. I changed to single speech marks when I did my OU course as the guidance said to and I do as I’m told 🙂

    Now it’s just stuck.

  14. Great post! In my job, I edit text of both Brits and Americans, and it’s always interesting to see the differences, not only in punctuation but often in voice and style.

    When teaching creative writing, I generally tell my students not to get too hung up on punctuation or syntax during early drafts, as I think it can hamper their creative flow, and if they get distracted by overly line editing before revising, they’re generally more hesitant to make the sweeping changes that sometimes need to happen.

    One of the things my students always bring up is the issue of tense, how formal English calls for adjusting verb tense whereas in story of course a flashback can be rendered entirely in present tense. It seems to cause some confusion for newer writers drawing on what they were taught in school about writing essays. Likewise with dialogue, American students seem to have double quotes drilled into them and new story writers can be baffled when they see seasoned writers stepping away from autocratic syntax. Frequently, my solution is Huck Finn, where I can delight in showing them how dialogue and syntax may be carefully rendered to reflect authentic dialects, or in Twain’s case, eleven different dialects.

  15. I went to Cambridge and the Oxford comma was essential. It’s stuck with me.

  16. I think consistency is key, in this debate, whether you choose single or double marks. Personally, I prefer the Oxford comma and double quotation marks for dialogue (with single within those denoting the speaker making a quote), but I’ve no issue with those writers who use the opposite, so long as they’re mindful about being consistent.

  17. Grammar rules seem to change more than they stay the same. I have noticed that they differ depending on what country you are in (UK vs. USA) and what reference book you are using. Is there a standard? I don’t think so. Sometimes, I think it comes down to a matter of preference. I learned that book titles should be underlined; now I think they are supposed to be italicized. Maybe not. I’m no longer sure!

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