Log in


orphica in hp_britglish

Punctuation Question

One thing I've noticed from reading a good bit of HP fan fic (though perhaps all by American authors) is that even those who 'try' to use British English spelling and language/terms, they still punctuate their stories in the American way. I was looking at this website and I realized that I can't remember seeing any fan fic punctuated in this way. I read UK editions of the novels and it was where I first noticed these differences.

Considering I can't recall seeing a fan fic British English punctuated, is this punctuation not used on the internet? (Surely it is not out of date if books are still published with this punctuation, and I'm sure I've read some fics written by British authors) If anyone could point me to some fics they know are punctuated this way, that'd be great!

I suppose the most important question is, if someone from the UK were to read a fic that was punctuated in the American way, but otherwise was pretty flawlessly careful to ensure that no Americanisms or spelling crept in, would you consider this to be an incomplete attempt at 'writing British' or does it not matter?


I'm an English teacher in the UK and this website's version of British punctuation is not the one we teach in schools.

Whilst it is true that many printed books use ' instead of " for speech marks this is a fairly recent practice and does not reflect the way we use punctuation when we write.

I was a bit bewildered by the allegation that that was how we punctuate. It wasn't how I was taught either.

I'm glad I wasn't the only one. I was definitely taught to use internal punctuation and double quotation marks.
I'm devastated to discover I might be doing it the American way. This can't be right.

But ... but .... but....

Now I shall fret all day until I can find my copy of Eats, shoots and leaves to check.

Puzzled, of Tunbridge Wells.
Dear Puzzled,

Do you live down the lane from Old Soldier?


Inquisitive, Small Town USA
Dear Inquisitive,

I do, and next door to Disgruntled and Disgusted.


Same here. Am boggled by the idea, since most external punctuation makes my fingers itch to move it inside, goddammit. I'm obviously an American in disguise, according to that website.
Slightly O/T:

I'm also an English teacher, also teach kids to use ", and never knew why all the books used ' (I was a Lit graduate).

The whole thing confuses the kids like mad.

SO: shouldn't we be doing it the 'British' way? Seeing as we go to such lengths to preserve our spelling rules etc?
Some books in the 80s were still using " ". I don't know when or why the change occurred. I find myself having to type out extracts for children to use as examples.

The rules about spelling are becoming less clear also. I've done some editorial consultancy work for a publishing house which sells in the UK and the US. At one time the book was printed in two editions. In recent years company policy is to try and avoid words which differ. If this cannot be done then the US spelling is used and one edition is produced.
We used to use the " " marks. Now in published stuff we use ' '. However, for handwriting a lot of us still use " " (the old-fashioned way, that most of us learnt to use at school). So, by seeing double quotation marks, I don't automatically assume the author is not British. Just worry about the palcement of punctuation, as that always tend to be a give-away; when reading a book or article that was published in America, the placement of quotation marks in relation to full-stops and commas always makes me squirm.
I also put the punctuation within the quotation marks and that is the method laid down to be taught in schools in England and Wales.
The reason double spaces between paragraphs are used on the web is that it makes it easier to read. Reading on the screen is not the same as reading a book, so you have to make allowances for that. Similarly, paragraph length should be shorter, because while it's easy enough to read a page long paragraph on the printed page, it's a nightmare to read on the screen.
What I always did was put a little row of ---- or **** to indicate scene break or POV change or things of that nature. Do people not do that anymore?
the white lines between paragraphs for instance - that I think are really annoying

I've gotten used to them and I understand why they're there: because HTML is very bad at indentation.

Indents are how paragraph breaks are signalled in books and they're quite necessary, or else everything would be just one big mush with occasional confusion on when a paragraph ends and a new one begins (i.e. when the last line of a paragraph is as long or almost as long as the page width). However, indentation in HTML is impossible unless one forces it by using a number of   character signs, but even this is not guaranteed to give the same result on all browsers.
To write out HTML codes in HTML, you of course need to escape the special char handle, i.e. the ampersand with &amp;. So to write out &nbsp; you actually need to write &amp;nbsp;. Same with e.g. < and >: they should be written as &lt; and &gt; respectively, not as the chars themselves because that has been known to bollocks up comments and entries.

And here's hoping I didn't cock up any of my HTML codes there. :P
I've gotten used to them and I understand why they're there: because HTML is very bad at indentation.

Exactly. The blank lines are unaesthetic, but nothing's worse than trying to read something that hasn't got clear paragraph breaks.
It's also normal practice for business letters these days in the UK. Our letter templates even do it automatically - if you hit "return" you get a double space.
Ah, yes, indeed. *shudder* I also keep seeing it in technical documentation and (horror!) academic publications. Because I'm an old-fashioned twat, I stick to indentation and perhaps a 2em increase in paragraph separation for any printed material I write.
I believe switchknife uses the single quote punctuation.

I've gone back and forth on the issue of how I should do it and from similar discussions elsewhere. I thought this was an american influence, but I've always preferred brit spellings and my mother does the quotes and spelling the same (she was born there and taught brit english, I was born in the US, but learned more from her, which caused me to fail spelling classes for years in grade school, even though I was spellign correctly, just, not american!)

Personally I find the double quotes easier to read, I'm not really sure why that is.
I know double quotes are easier to read for me because I don't get them confused with apostrophes. So they're easier to scan visually:

'To thwart the bolsheviks' nefarious plans, we must take up arms today, not tomorrow.'

My eye connects the apostrophe of the possessive with the first quotation mark. That generally dicks up my concentration, when I encounter the closing quote and have to go back to figure out what went where.

Double quotes is what I learned in English class, despite my teachers being generally read and educated in Britain. My native tongue alternates between using initial dashes with no quotes whatsoever to using guillemets (!).
Yes, that's definitly at least in part if not entirely it. =)
Are you French? I'd never have guessed :) Where are you? I'm near Lyon myself :D

And to bring that back on topic, I know I prefer double quotes to single ones, especially if they're not curly, because I can see them better. Single straight quotes are way too easy to miss, and then you're left to wonder whether something is dialogue or not :)
No, alas not French -- Finnish. And yeah, it's strange that we use guillemets, too, though mostly in older translated literature (my Finnish translations of all books by Dumas père and fils, for example). Even then they're used like regular quotation marks:

« That's no moon », Hermione said and smiled tremulously.

So not the French way where they encompass an entire conversation with the help of tirets. And, ugh, curly quotes. I hate the damn things.
Not quite like regular quotation marks, though, since the comma is after the guillemet (like in French).

The French way of punctuating a conversation is a pain in the ass, and really not practical, as sometimes you include the tags inside the quotation marks, and sometimes not.
Harry turned toward Hermione and asked:

« There's no spoon?

— No, you dolt! Hermione answered cuttingly. There's no moon.

— Oh! » Harry said sheepishly. He covered his eyes with his hand. « That was stupid of me, wasn't it? »
Wow, I don't think I ever wrote such inane dialogue :D

Why do you hate curly quotes? When they're properly coded (&ldquo; and &rdquo;) they work perfectly well.
Not quite like regular quotation marks, though, since the comma is after the guillemet (like in French).

Ah, yes. I should've said "used as regular quotation marks would be in Finnish"; IOW, when using quotes in Finnish, the comma goes outside the quote/guillemet/whatnot.

I know guillemets-tirets quotation drives me nuts whenever I read books in French. It just sometimes seems rather arbitrary when one conversation is deemed to have ended and when one begins. (Not that pluperfect doesn't drive me nuts, too.)

As for curly quotes, I don't like them because I sometimes (at work *cough*) surf with text-based browsers like lynx or links. Without proper add-on installations, curly quotes and many other special chars are rendered as question marks. Same with emacs, especially since on some machines all language modules have not been installed (oh, for want of M-x standard-display-european).
*peeks at UK-edition of PoA*

Yep, single quotation marks.

But... I have to draw the line somewhere or my brain will explode. I fight to keep out Americanisms, and also to avoid overdoing it by loading my fic with every Anglicism I can dig up. I use a UK-English spellchecker. I've trained myself not to feel quite so painfully self-concious using 'arse' instead of 'ass'. But I'm only human, and not a very good example of the species at that. Unless someone can point me towards some UK-usage punctuation/grammar correction software, I'm just going to use the most correct punctuation I know, and if that means a bit of US influence, well, I'll just have to live with it.
what word processor do you use? in MS word, and I'm sure others, you can define your own grammar rules.
Oh, wait, it just gives you a selection of choices for puncuation in/out of quotes. Nevermind.
I use OpenOffice and I can't figure out how to get the blasted thing to use the UK spellcheck dictionary I found (I use a website with a java applet to get it done!), or how to get a grammar-check to work at all... and the grammar-check software I tried out once wiped out an almost-finished story I was working on. Devastating!

Any suggestions for easy-to-use spell/punctuation/grammar check tools are always welcome. Emphasis on the easy-to-use, I'm afraid.
If I'm not mistaken, you should go to Tools/Options, then Linguistic Parameters (or something like that; I'm translating from the French version of OO I use). It's the third down in the left-hand side column. Then Languages, choose English (UK). You may have to download a UK spellchecker/dictionary,I don't remember, but that page should help you :)
Thanks for the link, I'm trying out the auto-installer. We'll see if it works...
I agree. I do the same thing--fighting to keep out American slang and American words, while trying not to create the "Hey, Ma, look how BRITISH I sound!" impression. I use beta-readers. I use Britpickers. I check sites like this one. I do try.

But I don't know British punctuation rules. I never learned them. So I default to the American punctuation rules, the ones that were hammered into my head by Mrs. Roche when I was in seventh and eighth grade. It's true that I'm not using British punctuation, but I am striving to punctuate correctly.
UK books use single quote marks, but newspapers use double quotes. Double quotes are also what you're taught to use when writing - one reason is to ensure that they're not confused with apostrophes.

Also, newspapers will bend the rules of grammar and punctuation for the sake of clarity.

When punctuating quotations, I punctuate inside the quote marks unless it is an incomplete quote, thus:

Hermione said: "That's a ridiculous idea, Harry."


Hermione said to Harry that it was a "ridiculous idea".
UK books use single quote marks, but newspapers use double quotes.

Ah yes, as a journalist, this is why I get confused as to what's actually correct. A lot depends on an individual newspaper's style sheet. I write for the Irish Times - we use double quotation marks, which is what I grew up using for everything - and I can never remember myself what to use in fiction now.
I've always understood that the biggest difference between American and British punctuation rules is that British is more flexible: there are lots of things that depend on context in British English, but which are RIGHT or WRONG in American usage. But I almost never notice the differences, and after eight years on the internet I can't honestly say that I punctuate in a pure British style rather than in a mixed up British/American style.
You know, I never really noticed.

I'm English, and what I notice is words spelt differently and the odd grammatical variation. Punctuation never really bothers me, not unless it's clearly wrong (commas in the middle of words, apostrophes in plurals, etc), or missing altogether.
I am so baffled by this (I'm coming at this from a Brit standpoint). Punctuation always comes inside quotation marks; printed books use single quotes but everybody else uses double in order not to confuse with apostrophes; thoughts would go inside quotes; never any punctuation after a dash, and always a comma:

"That's an idea," he said.
He said, "I really wouldn't do that if I were you."
That site just seems all sorts of messed up, in both British and American puncutation.
I'm an American, but I attempt to follow the UK editions of the books in spelling and punctuation, which is why I use ' ' for dialogue. There are a few people in fandom who do likewise (switchknife is one, already mentioned), but I don't know that any of them are British. I think anyone who does it is just following the books.
The only British punctuation I try to pay attention to is the "Mr and Mrs" as opposed to "Mr. and Mrs."

Wow, I'm so confused now. Heh. I've been meaning to ask someone that, too, because I have UK copies of certain things and did notice the quotation mark thing. But I have never ever seen a UK fanfic writer use them. *headdesk*