The new £5 note: how should we be using quotation marks?
Following the Bank of England’s recent decision not to include a set of quotation marks on the new £5 note, grammarians have been feverishly weighing in on what many are calling a serious blunder.
The original concept work for the new £5 note—replacing the old note as of 5 May—apparently enclosed the quotation “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” in quotation marks, placing it beneath an image of Sir Winston Churchill who famously uttered it during World War II. However, it appears that the quotation marks were removed before the note went to print.
Critics of this decision believe it violates a sacred rule: that direct speech—the reporting of speech by repeating the actual words of a speaker—should be set off by quotation marks. Many have also taken umbrage with the lack of period following the quotation.
Such grammar conventions explain, for example, that quotation marks (also known as inverted commas in British English) should mark both the beginning and end of the direct speech:
‘That,’ he said, ‘is nonsense.’
In British English these single quotation marks are used most frequently, though double marks – as in “What time will he arrive?” – may also be used, and are the preferred style in American English.
As seen in the examples above, the conventions also state that associated punctuation should be included at the end of a piece of speech, and should be placed inside the closing quotation marks:
‘Can I come in?’ he asked.
“He’s very clever, you know.”
People writing reports or stories are usually well-served by these grammar conventions when quoting direct speech: quotation marks can show readers exactly where the person’s speech begins and ends, and a period, question mark, or exclamation point following the quotation can give readers more information about the speaker’s tone. For students writing essays, quotation marks are also a necessity in avoiding plagiarism: if the student doesn’t indicate when they are quoting another’s words, the implication may follow that they are taking credit where credit is not due.
However, it is also true that a banknote is very different from a report, story, or essay, and advocates of the change have argued that the issue at hand should not be one of convention but of clarity, saying it is still crystal clear who uttered the quotation in the first place.
For more information about the grammar conventions when quoting speech, read on: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/punctuation/punctuation-in-direct-speech.