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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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migrated from Feb 15 '13 at 18:38

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

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
sed "s/,\"/\",/g" – Mitch Feb 15 '13 at 18:04
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
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
I would try and find a writing style book, and then write out a script to make everything fit that style – JustSomeDude Apr 17 '13 at 18:19

4 Answers 4

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.

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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 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 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 at 15:18

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

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

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.

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"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
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 at 17:58

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').

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

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