My apologies if this is off topic.

American and British writing have different punctuation styles. Is there any software that can change American style punctuation to British? I am referring to punctuation, not spelling. A simple example would be changing the American styled

"Hello," he said.

to what (I think is) the British styled

'Hello', he said.

I am not entirely certain about the particulars which is why I need this tool in the first place.

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  • 5
    The "British" style includes punctuation inside the quotes if it's part of the quoted phrase, so while conversion from "British" to "American" is trivial, it's lossy, making 100% accurate conversion from "American" to "British" impossible. – Jon Hanna Feb 15 '13 at 17:25
  • 1
    It's also not really possible to define "British". I use double-quotes first because they don't get confused with apostrophes; and I was taught that at school. – Andrew Leach Feb 15 '13 at 17:44
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    sed "s/,\"/\",/g" – Mitch Feb 15 '13 at 18:04
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    Wow, that would be nice. I suggest you find an editor on the correct side of the pond and ask him/her to focus just on that. A native speaker/reader/writer is going to find that sort of thing fairly quickly, because the non-native bits will jump out. – Lauren Ipsum Feb 15 '13 at 19:50
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    I didn't know what your proficiency is. To get the job done, it may turn out that the easiest thing (instead of spending time looking/googling for and evaluating tools), is to do it yourself real quick with a set of -simple- regexes. – Mitch Feb 15 '13 at 19:57

First of all, while it's true that there are many different styles, there is still definitely a "British punctuation" versus an "American punctuation" at a generic level. What you have flagged as "American" is almost always used throughout North America without exception(*). And while there is more variation in Great Britain, what you have given as "British" is still widely used there.

(*) In North America, some style guides do allow for a mix of "British" and "American". For example, The Chicago Manual of Style (6.9) says that the British style (using single quotation marks) “may be appropriate in works of textual criticism or in computer coding and other technical or scientific settings.” This is necessary when text styling is unavailable, and putting a punctuation character inside quotation marks could lead to confusion with text that is meant to be communicated literally: (1) Type the password "123." versus (2) Type the password '123'.

Aside from search and replace on the quotation marks themselves, an editing tool called PerfectIt will let you choose if you want final punctuation inside or outside of quotes. Unfortunately (and ironically), it's not perfect when it comes to the British style; but I can't see how it could be. Short of artificial intelligence, software can't tell if what's inside quotation marks is actually part of quoted dialog or just a quoted "fragment" of text. And the British style does put punctuation inside of quotation marks if it's part of a sentence's broader grammatical structure.

  • 'The pears,' he said, "apples and other fruit have all dried out.'
  • The pears, apples and other fruit have all dried out.

The comma is part of the spoken sentence here, so it does come before the quotation mark---even in the so-called British style. (As does the period.) Adding quotation marks and narrative text doesn't change the punctuation of the quoted dialog itself. (Note: As most, but not all, British style guides avoid using a serial comma, I left it out.)

However, PerfectIt will flag such instances and let you decide if they should be fixed or not.

As much as the (common) British style makes more logical sense to me (even though I don't normally use it), the American style is easier from a programming point of view.

But while you can find tools that let you get close to automatic styling, there is really no substitute for learning the particulars. (If you rely on any automated tool, it will let you down at some point as far as this is concerned.)

  • To clarify, when there isn't actual dialog involved, these are the two styling variations (and what was initially described): (1) The words "pear," "apple," and "orange" are all used to describe types of "fruit." and (2) The words 'pear', 'apple', and 'orange' are all used to describe types of 'fruit'. – Jason Bassford Mar 30 '18 at 7:45
  • I use PerfectIt as a backup when copy editing material for clients. It’s really useful, but not a replacement for getting things right. – Richard Cosgrove Mar 30 '18 at 9:56
  • 'what you have given as "British" is still widely used there' -- to clarify: what is described as British in the question is used almost exclusively by fiction publishers, while academic publishers often prefer a hybrid between the two styles given (i.e. double quotes with internal punctuation where appropriate) and non-fiction general publishers being distributed between the two approaches. – Jules Mar 30 '18 at 16:18

The idea that there are two styles is erroneous, as has been mentioned above. The 'rules' surrounding punctuation are becoming more relaxed year by year and, especially with the growth and use of the Internet, 'US' and 'UK' styles are becoming ever less easy to distinguish.

And since 'quotes are supposed to be exactly like the original', this would include importing a style possibly at variance with that used in the main body of the document.

That having been said, you might find this treatment of punctuation surrounding quotations interesting - even quite useful.

Though choosing to use double or single inverted commas in the first instance is more a matter of personal (maybe your editor's) choice, I tend to use double for direct speech, but single for other quotes, to signal novel/unusual words/usages, or perhaps the risky choice of a certain word ('scare quotes').

  • Mixing US and UK styles in one document is, according to every style manual I know, incorrect. – Neil Fein Jan 23 '15 at 12:52

Try find replace in whatever word processor you are using. Cmd+f or Ctrl+f and replace ,' with ',

  • Thanks but this is nowhere near enough. For example, consider It's the boys', I said. – terdon Jan 28 '15 at 14:00
  • I thought all commas should be inside the quotes in both American and English standards. – eladrin201 Jan 29 '15 at 15:58

Firstly, what you've posted isn't an example of British punctuation: there's no such thing. The style of punctuation depends on the style guide you're using, and this is often dictated by the area you're writing for (e.g. scientific vs. creative). A friend of mine studied Geography and had to use, Harvard referencing and punctuation inside the quotes. When he did his masters (in Creative Writing) he had to learn to use single quotes, MHLA referencing and punctuation outside the quotes.

Punctuation should only go outside the quotes if it's a quote - not dialogue. If you're writing an essay in British English and quoting from a book, that's when the punctuation goes outside the quotation marks. However, many people agree that this looks ugly and a few people from my MA course (in Creative Writing) only used this because they had to.

Single quotes vs. double quotes varies from person to person. At school I was taught to use double quotes. When I did my MA, we were encouraged to use single (but could use double if we wished). The main reason we were told to use single was because double quotes inside single looks better than single inside double. A lot of the time, punctuation is as much about how it looks on the page as what its function is.

Punctuation between British and American English really isn't that different. The main issues are spelling and different words for things (for instance, biscuits, cookies and scones mean different things depending on if you speak to someone English or American). I'd be much more concerned about that than punctuation because it's far more difficult to spot and easier to get confused.

  • I'm sorry but there most certainly are differences. The one I used in my example is one of them. I am not at all sure about double versus single, I think you're quite right and that is just a personal choice. However, whether punctuation goes inside or outside the quotes depends on which side of the pond you're on. See, for example here. – terdon Jan 28 '15 at 13:58
  • Sorry, I was unaware of the ‘Mr.’ vs ‘Mr’ thing, however I have seen ‘Mr.’ written in British English too. (I’m not sure if this was a stylistic choice or an error.) However, I would class the date thing as more grammatical/syntactical than relating to punctuation. 10.30 vs. 10:30 I’m not convinced is a British vs. American thing – most instances I have seen use colons to separate times, not full stops. This may be a generational thing, or it may be simply because most digital clocks display it using a colon. – Kristina Adams Jan 28 '15 at 15:17
  • Be that as it may, this question was prompted because a friend who is a professional editor and translator and a native speaker of AmE was having trouble getting the style right for a British customer. I was after a piece of software that could do it for him. – terdon Jan 28 '15 at 15:18

Maybe the answer is really quite simple. Any decent word processing program will pick up on all of the incorrect punctuation and spelling if you import an American document into a British system. So if you import an American doc with the sentence:

 "What a lovely color," she said.

into a British system, it should squawk and flag things so you know to fix it up to be:

 'What a lovely colour', she said.

by whatever hideously tedious means you invent.

  • 1
    "Any decent word processing program will pick up on all ..." - not reliably. The NL parsers you find in such software is easily and frequently confused. – Charles Stewart Jun 20 '13 at 21:48
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    The quoted material is a complete sentence. Also, the quoted material either (a) is the opening of the document, or (b) is preceded by another punctuation mark, such as the full stop at the end of the previous sentence. In that case, the comma should be inside the quotation marks in both British & American usage. – TRiG Feb 5 '15 at 17:58

British born and UK resident for longer than I'd care to mention joining the answers here, and I'm sorry but (it doesn't get any more British than that) the example in the question just looks wrong to me.

The problem seems to be with the word "quotation". I would agree that the UK style would use punctuation outside inverted commas (single or double is a whole different style question) where something was attributed to someone, but this wouldn't happen for direct speech.

Today's "Guardian" has some good examples in the same article :

Russia was reacting to “absolutely unacceptable actions that are taken against us under very harsh pressure from the United States and Britain under the pretext of the so-called Skripal case”, Lavrov said.


“British authorities finally spoke today about Yulia Skripal’s condition. As people say, she’s on the mend quickly. And we have demanded again that we are given access to Yulia, as a Russian citizen,” Lavrov said, Interfax reported.

[direct speech]

Both of which look right (as far as I'm concerned) in context.

Getting back to the question, I don't think software is currently sophisticated enough to know whether it's dealing with speech or an attributed quotation. This may be one of those things where there's no effective substitute for a local editor.

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