Answer Via Harbrace

Okay, so Devon was somewhat correct in her assessment of what was wrong with this sentence:

“Injustice is easy to accept,” said the judge. “it is justice that is harder to accept.”

The sentence could very well read

“Injustice is easy to accept,” said the judge. “It is justice that is harder to accept.”

However, let’s see what Harbrace College Handbook says. The example is similar, so I’ll stick with our sentence here.

“Injustice is easy to accept,” said the judge; “it is justice that is harder to accept.”

Huh? A semicolon? What’s Lori smoking? Here’s why; a semicolon separates two independent clauses. Since these sentences could very well be considered independent clauses and part of the same thought, there’s the case for the semicolon. But placement – what’s that about? According to Harbrace, page 218, “semicolons and colons always go outside the quotation marks.”

So the “more right” answer is to use a semicolon after “said the judge.”

If I’ve learned anything at all about grammar it’s that rules are rarely the same among style books. Anyone have a different book saying something else?

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  • Devon Ellington April 22, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Strunk & White’s ELEMENTS OF STYLE is my Bible, which is why I made the choice I did.

    To me, a semi-colon creates a different rhythm than a period. Actually, I really like the way it changes the pace of the sentence there. If you use the punctuation to create rhythm in dialogue, it makes a huge difference in breath and cadence.

    But Strunk and White would kick my behind around the block for doing it that way! 😉

  • Lori April 22, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    That’s what I suspected, Devon. The style books are so different, it’s no wonder “mistakes” make it into print. My other style book – Prentice Hall Handbook for Writers, Ninth Edition – says nothing about where to put the semicolon in a quote like that, except it does repeat the rule of keeping it outside any quotation marks.

    I read ‘Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies’ by June Casagrande, which points out the variations among style books and grammarians. It’s a fun read. 🙂

  • Irreverent Freelancer April 22, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Ahh, so they went for the semicolon after “judge” instead. It looks correct to me, but it’s old school for sure in my eyes. I would have opted for punctuating it the way Devon suggested.

  • L. Shepherd April 22, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    That’s probably correct for MLA, since there are multiple commas in the sentence. In AP I would use a comma, though I could be wrong. The semicolon just doesn’t look right for AP. The outside the comma thing is correct for both, I believe.

  • Lori April 25, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    I think in general, Devon’s way is best for AP, l. shepherd. It’s perfectly acceptable, and it’s two complete thoughts, so why not make them two sentences? The semicolon is the “sexy” way of doing it. :))