Unable to find this from googling.

The trees seemed to be shouting "I'm dead!" not "I'm alive!"

The trees seemed to be shouting "I'm dead," not "I'm alive!"

Which one of these sentences is punctuated correctly, and where would I find such a rule anywhere?


She is cold, not hot.

She is cold not hot.

When do you use a comma before "not"?

  • I feel like this is two separate questions, and is better off being split into separate questions.
    – F1Krazy
    Oct 25, 2023 at 14:26
  • @F1Krazy Are we the right place to ask and answer these basic punctuation questions? I mean, sure, this is about written language, but not really about writing, is it?
    – Ben
    Oct 25, 2023 at 19:38
  • @Ben These questions have always been kind of a grey area, in that they're better suited to English.SE, but the community here seems to be happy that they're on-topic here too, and so they get left open and answered. You're welcome to post on Writing Meta if you think the site's scope should be changed to explicitly exclude these kinds of questions, but for the moment, I'm happy to go along with the apparent community consensus.
    – F1Krazy
    Oct 25, 2023 at 20:00
  • @F1Krazy Alright. Thanks.
    – Ben
    Oct 25, 2023 at 21:45

2 Answers 2


For quoted phrases within a statement, The American rule is to enclose those phrases in single quotation marks, not double, and then punctuate as needed.

The trees seemed to be shouting 'I'm dead!', not 'I'm alive!'.

If this were something a person said,

"The trees seemed to be shouting 'I'm dead!', not 'I'm alive!'."


She is cold, not hot.

Which is consistent in that there is a comma before the not. "This, not that."

  • I learned that exclamation points and question marks replace commas and full stops. In my opinion, your first example should read: The trees seemed to be shouting 'I'm dead!' not 'I'm alive! See: grammarbook.com/blog/quotation-marks/… and thepunctuationguide.com/exclamation-point.html
    – Ben
    Oct 25, 2023 at 19:12
  • @Ben I am sure your formulation is not true, you don't even have a period after ''I'm alive!'. When you enclose something in single quotes like this, you treat the whole thing as a unit, like a word, the punctuation inside the single quotes does not count the same as punctuation inside of double quotes, which indicates a speaker.
    – Amadeus
    Oct 25, 2023 at 20:23
  • Unfortunately (for you) I am right: The exclamation point (inside the closing quotation mark) ends the sentence; no period. She ended the letter with a cheerful “Good luck!” (Source: thepunctuationguide.com/terminal-points.html)
    – Ben
    Oct 25, 2023 at 21:52
  • @Ben that is not in single quotation marks. It is double quotation marks. That is not proof of my assertion. But you do you, let the publisher's proofreader decide the matter, I won't engage in pointless argument.
    – Amadeus
    Oct 26, 2023 at 10:27
  • Amadeus, the example I cited clearly shows a citation (from a letter) and not dialogue. Also, the single quotation marks in your first example are wrong. In American English, all quotation marks are double (dialogue, quotes), only quotes within quotes get single quotation marks (as in your second example). If you would simply take five minutes to research the rules you would find out that I am right. Please edit your answer as it is wrong.
    – Ben
    Oct 26, 2023 at 10:37

In Chicago Style, no comma in #1

6.123 When to omit comma or period.
Neither a period (aside from an abbreviating period) nor a comma ever accompanies a question mark or an exclamation point. The latter two marks, being stronger, take precedence over the first two.

This guidance isn't without controversy, though in this particular example, it works out ok.

A comma in #2

According to COCA, ADJ , not ADJ (two adjectives, with a comma) is the form that's used — searching without the comma brings up essentially nothing. Example (quoted in Collins):

Dogs are good, not bad.
Times, Sunday Times (2007)

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