Everyday rules about punctuation are needed every day

  • Article by: STEPHEN WILBERS
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • January 13, 2013 - 3:38 PM

"If you're at a Target store, pay attention to the cash registers," Lori writes. "Each one has a message on the screen that says something like 'Save 5% everyday.' It's like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

"My daughter and I saw a preview for a movie with a message that said, 'Everyday could be your last.' We looked at each other and wondered if we were wrong in our thinking.

"My understanding is that everyday is an adjective: my everyday shoes, everyday savings, everyday value. And every day could be used interchangeably with each day: Every day we go to the store. Every day I see my mom.

"Am I correct in these assumptions?"

You are.

A few years ago I noticed a banner on a local elementary school that said "Read everyday." I liked the message but not the spelling. Within days of my mentioning the error in a column, the banner was changed to "Read every day."

Carol writes about an op-ed piece that offered "a great example of a misplaced phrase": "I found it irreverent to hear Josh Groban sacredly sing 'O Holy Night' while shopping for a toilet at Menards."

Oh, my. That's as good as "When loaded, launch the program."

I'm a fan of "Eats, Shoots & Leaves," but Donna reminds me of two other fun books by Lynne Truss that she uses with her students "to illustrate why placement of commas, apostrophes and hyphens affects understanding": "The Girl's Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can't Manage Without Apostrophes!" and "Twenty-Odd Ducks: Why, Every Punctuation Mark Counts."

To appreciate the point of the subtitles, compare the unflattering sentence "Those smelly things are my brothers" with the less insulting "Those smelly things are my brother's."

Responding to my column about the correct order of closing punctuation marks, Donna also writes: "I can think of one type of sentence where the end mark goes outside the quotation mark: Why did Nancy say, 'It's raining outside.'? True?"

Not quite. Here are the rules:

In American English, unlike British English, commas and periods are placed inside closing quotation marks, as in "You don't understand me," she said and He said, "I don't." Colons and semicolons are placed outside, as in We have three "problems": (1) ... And question marks and exclamation marks are placed either inside or outside depending on whether they're part of the quoted material, as in She asked, "Is it snowing?" and Did he say, "I wish!"?

In Donna's example -- Why did Nancy say, 'It's raining outside.'? -- the period inside the closing quotation mark would be omitted as a matter of expedience: Why did Nancy say, "It's raining outside"?

Note, however, that only periods and commas are dropped. Other punctuation marks remain: Why did Nancy ask, "Is it raining outside?"?

We could have some fun with this: Why did you ask, "Why did Nancy ask, 'Is it raining outside?'?"?

And we could keep going: I can't believe I just asked you, "Why did you ask, 'Why did Nancy ask, "Is it raining outside?"?'?"!

But maybe that's enough.

Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at His website is

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