Leading Quote Mark Generates Grammar Error

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated August 31, 2013)

When CJ writes dialogue in a Word document and encloses it in quote marks, the first quote mark (at the beginning of the quotation) ends up flagged as a grammar error. The program treats the trailing quote mark as normal. It doesn't matter if she is using straight quotes or smart quotes—the 'error' is the same, even though the sentence is grammatically correct. It's not consistent either. CJ has no idea why the program is doing this, but it's getting extremely annoying.

It's easy to understand why this behavior would be annoying. Trying to figure out why this is happening, however, could take some detective work. It is helpful, as well, to understand how the grammar checker should be flagging text that includes quotes. Consider the following four examples, each with only minor changes:

John said "look at this!"
John said, "look at this!"
John said "Look at this!"
John said, "Look at this!"

The first three examples are all flagged as having grammar errors. The first and third show the word "said" as an error, but that is because Word expects a comma before the start of the actual quote. The second has the word "look" flagged, but that is because it is not capitalized. It is only the fourth example—with both the comma and proper capitalization—that is not flagged as incorrect. In no instance is the actual quote mark flagged by the grammar checker, nor should it be. If it is, then there is definitely something fishy going on.

The first question that needs to be asked is whether this problem occurs only with documents that share a common characteristic. Specifically, is it only one or two documents or only documents that rely on a common template? If so, then there is a good chance that either the documents or the template associated with the documents is corrupted in some way.

If the problem only occurs with a limited number of documents, it is also possible that there is some macro associated with the documents that causes the leading quote mark to be automatically replaced with a non-standard quote mark. If you suspect this is a problem, simply use Save As to save the document in DOCX format instead of DOCM. This gets rid of all the macros in the document and may make the problem go away.

If the problem occurs with all documents, then you should check to see if the problem occurs only on a single machine. If so, then the problem is related to some setting or mis-setting on that machine. For instance, it could be that the grammar checker is misconfigured and you might want to spend a bit of time making sure that the settings are set back to their defaults. (Compare the settings on the problem machine with the settings on a different, non-problem machine.)

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (11053) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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