Quote, Unquote

If you’ve read many past issues of this newsletter, you know that I loathe Word’s AutoFormat options, although I do use one of them–“Replace straight quotes with smart quotes.” But sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I can’t insert a quotation mark going the right direction. If I want a closing quotation mark, Word insists on giving me an opening one–or vice versa. If you’ve run into this problem, you know how maddening it can be. Wouldn’t it be nice to type precisely the kind of “smart” quotation marks you need without having Word second-guess what you’re doing? It turns out there’s a built-in way to do that. Here are the key commands you need:


To get an opening double quotation mark, press this key combination:

CTRL + `

(That little character on the end there is the single quotation mark on the key to the left of the “1” key on your keyboard.)

Next, press this:


(That little character on the end is an apostrophe. In other words, just type a quotation mark as you usually would.)

There’s your opening double quotation mark.


To get a closing double quotation mark, press this:

CTRL + ‘

Then press this:



To get an opening single quotation mark, press this:

CTRL + `

Then press this:



To get an closing single quotation mark, press this:

CTRL + ‘

Then press this:

Now that I’ve told you all of that, I’ve got to say that I don’t much like those key combinations. They’re hard to type, and they seem inconsistent. Luckily, Word allows us to create our own key combinations, so let’s try setting up a more natural and consistent system:

1. Click Insert > Symbol > Symbols tab.

2. Make sure the “Font” list shows “(normal text).”

3. Make sure the “Subset” list shows “General Punctuation.”

On the bottom row in the fifth column, you’ll see an opening single quotation mark.

In the sixth column, you’ll see a closing single quotation mark.

In the ninth column, you’ll see an opening double quotation mark

And in the tenth column, you’ll see a closing double quotation mark.

Now let’s assign some keys:

1. Click the opening single quotation mark.

2. Click the “Shortcut Key” button.

3. Press the new key combination you want to use. I’m thinking this one:

CTRL + ‘

4. Click the “Assign” button.

5. Click the “Close” button.

While we’re still in there, let’s assign the rest of the quotation marks. To do so, repeat steps 1 through 5 for each quotation mark. Here are the other key combinations I’m going to use:

For the closing single quotation mark: ALT + ‘

For the opening double quotation mark: SHIFT + CTRL + ‘

For the closing double quotation mark: SHIFT + ALT + ‘

When you’re finished, press that final “Close” button to put away the “Symbol” dialog.

That should do it. Note that you can continue to use Word’s AutoFormat quotation marks if you want. But when you need to, you can easily specify exactly the kind of quotation marks you need to use.



After reading last week’s article “Style by Microsoft,” quite a few readers sent additional Microsoft “style” nominations for our “hall of shame.” Many thanks to all of them!

Kenneth Sutton wrote:

Here’s my nomination of the “replace internet paths with hyperlinks”. Bah!

In a similar vein, India Amos noted:

How about this classic: e-mail addresses underlined (not to mention blue and hotlinked). Yecch! Have you ever _deliberately_ clicked a linked e-mail address in a Word file? Me neither.

Finally, Andrea Balinson wrote:

The “style by Microsoft” example that drives me crazy is “Internet and network paths with hyperlinks,” which makes Web addresses appear underlined in blue. It’s one thing if the document you’re writing is designed to be read on a computer; in that case, having URLs as hyperlinks can actually be useful. Most of the time, though, I see printed letters, memos, and other paper materials in which the URLs are underlined — obviously because whoever created the documents didn’t know or care enough to stop Word from formatting them as links.

LeAnne Baird wrote:

Here’s my pet grammar-spelling peeve:

If you don’t know that ’til is a contraction of until, Microsoft spell checker only gives you till as an option, not till and ’til. What would it cost them to fix this? .00000000000001 per licensed copy.

Caryl Wenzel wrote:

I have complained many a time of “style” imposed by Microsoft that is not accepted in an editorial style manual. Yet, someone at Microsoft thinks he or she is doing someone a favor by providing all these so-called helpful ideas.

I routinely omit such formatting and follow traditional editorial guidelines. I just wish Microsoft would learn the same. In fact, even Microsoft publishes it own style manuals for the books its publishing arm produces, and many of these imposed styles are not allowed.

Peg Hausman wrote:

My pet peeve about Word’s “help” is its default enforcement of the alleged rule against using “which” to introduce a restrictive (essential) clause in a sentence. I’ve appended a longish e-mail (below) that I sent to a local electronic discussion group a while back explaining why the rule doesn’t hold water. But the short version is that it was originally simply a mild preference expressed by H. W. Fowler in his famous _Modern English Usage_ (1926). The preference got picked up by AP and was soon presented as grammatical gospel, reproducing itself via journalism teachers all over the United States, in spite of the fact that it fails to reflect most normal educated usage.

Redmond has picked up this fiction and incorporated it into its Grammar function. Type a sentence like “The only document which really mattered was the one they neglected to send” into Word, and it will put the well-known wavy green underline under the fourth through the sixth words. A couple of investigative clicks will get you this message:

“If the marked group of words is essential to the meaning of your sentence, use ‘that’ to introduce the group of words. Do not use a comma. If the words are not essential to the meaning of your sentence, use “which” and separate them with a comma.”

I have two problems with this. One is that it is too dogmatic: If MS wants to help people abide by AP (and AP-influenced) rules, that’s fine, but it should be noted as a matter of AP house style and not as law.

The other problem is that a lot of people won’t get as far as the second click, so won’t know what the wavy green line is about. They may, however, discover through experiment that adding a couple of commas will make the wavy green line go away. I’ve seen quite a number of restrictive clauses incorrectly garnished with commas for this reason, and the effect can be most confusing. If you add commas to the sentence above–“The only document, which really mattered, was the one they neglected to send”–it promptly sounds witless and absurd.

As noted below, there’s a longer discussion at this URL:

I’m afraid even the abbreviated polemic in this e-mail may be too long for you to use [Editor’s note: Not at all. It’s fascinating!], but in any case, thanks for the chance to cast my vote against a really annoying Wordism!

——– Included Message ——–

Subject: Re: [dcpubs] Which old which? The wicked which!

DATE: 09/03/2003 12:00:00 PM

From: Peg Hausman

To: DCPubs mailing list

References: <1a5.d64a18a.2b279f11 [at symbol] aol.com> <3DF646D8.2050704@cox.net>

Failure to observe the which/that distinction doesn’t reflect evolution of any sort, for the simple reason that it has never at any time been a normal rule of English.

Apparently we owe the rise of the which/that rule to Fowler’s _Modern English Usage_ (1926). Fowler mentions that some writers seem to follow a practice of using “which” only for non-restrictive clauses, and says he thinks it would be a good idea. But he certainly doesn’t present it as a law of the language, current or past: “Some there are who follow this principle now; but it would be idle to pretend that it is the practice either of most or of the best writers.”

In fact, a couple of centuries earlier the feeling was that “that” was a rather dubious pronoun, best avoided by careful writers. Here’s part of a thumbnail history of which/that from the _Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage_:

_That_ is our oldest relative pronoun. According to McKnight 1928 _that_ was prevalent in early Middle English, _which_ began to be used as a relative pronoun in the 14th century, and _who_ and _whom_ in the 15th. _That_ was used not only to introduce restrictive clauses, but also nonrestrictive ones. . . .

By the early 17th century, _which_ and _that_ were being used pretty much interchangeably. . . . During the later 17th century, . . . _that_ fell into disuse, at least in literary English. It went into such an eclipse that its reappearance in the early 18th century was noticed and satirized by Joseph Addison in _The Spectator_ (30 May 1711) in a piece entitled ‘Humble Petition of _Who_ and _Which_ against the upstart Jack Sprat _That_.’

Unfortunately, Fowler’s “it would be nice” notion about keeping “which” nonrestrictive was apparently picked up by someone at AP and incorporated into the AP stylebook. As a result, professors at journalism schools across the land started teaching the which/that rule as gospel, and editors influenced by AP style have been trying to impose it on the general public ever since. It’s in quite a number of stylebooks now. The only hitch is that it has never made it into the common language–not only of those who barely made it through English 101 but even of the professionally literate. As the _Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage_ noted in 1989:

If the discussions in many of the handbooks are complex and burdened with exceptions, the facts of usage are quite simple. Virginia McDavid’s 1977 study shows that about 75 percent of the instances of _which_ in edited prose introduce restrictive clauses; about 25 percent, nonrestrictive ones.

We conclude that at the end of the 20th century, the usage of _which_ and _that_ –at least in prose–has pretty much settled down. You can use either _which_ or _that_ to introduce a restrictive clause–the grounds for your choice should be stylistic–and _which_ to introduce a nonrestrictive clause.

Please look at Ms. McDavid’s figures again: “which” introduced restrictive clauses *three times as often* as it introduced non-restrictive ones, in *edited* prose. Read a few novels by good, sensitive authors, and note the same pattern. Listen to intelligent people talking, and note the same pattern. In trying to browbeat the US at large (forget the UK) into observing the which/that “rule,” we’re tilting at windmills, spitting into the wind, beating our heads against the wall, trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon, and otherwise wasting our precious time.

A perverse recent development is that our buddies at Microsoft have incorporated the rule into their grammar-checking software. As a result, people who have no notion of the rule are mystified by seeing wiggly green lines underneath sentences that look just fine to them. On experimenting, some of them find that adding a couple of commas makes the green lines go away. The result is mispunctuated restrictive clauses (“the product, which drew the most attention at the inventors’ show, was the autopiloted heat-seeking mousetrap. . .”), surely a worse plague than the original alleged problem.

I agree that it would be a nice rule if it existed in a linguistically meaningful sense. There are, in fact, a lot of things on my wish list for the English language, including a decent spelling system and a genuine gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun, but wishing won’t make it so.

There’s a long but interesting discussion of the issue at

I think the remarks by Jane Lyle in this posting, in particular, are dead on (she’s managing editor of Indiana University Press and one of the mavens of copyediting-l). Or just look at very thorough treatment of the question in the _Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage_. (I’m forever recommending this book and hope I’m not too monotonous about it, but I do think leaves all other usage guides in the dust.)



Garbl’s Writing Center

Garbl (Gary B. Larson) provides a free editorial style manual, an annotated directory of writing Web sites, a concise writing guide, and a personalized advice and writing forum. Lots of good stuff for writers and editors:


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