Quotation Marks

Susan asks the English Master:

What are the rules for punctuation when using quotation marks? I vaguely recall something about commas, question marks, etc. being placed inside and outside the quotation marks, but don’t remember the rules

The rules differ depending on whether you’re writing for an American audience or for a British/international audience. I’ll discuss the American system, since that is what I know best. Perhaps someone else could weigh in on the British system through a comment.

  • Periods and commas: inside the quotation marks
  • Colons and semicolons: outside the quotation marks
  • Question marks and exclamation points: (a) inside if the question or exclamation is part of the quotation, and (b) outside if the question or exclamation is not part of the quotation

If we look at the actual punctuation symbols, we can detect a visual pattern to the rule:

  • . | , inside
  • : | ; outside
  • ! | ? depends

Examples:

  • When she said, “Aspiration is a prerequisite of inspiration,” she wasn’t kidding. (comma inside quotation mark)
  • Toby often said that “patience is a virtue”; however, he was not a virtuous man. (semicolon outside quotation mark)
  • Did she really say, “Aspiration is a prerequisite of inspiration”? (question mark outside quotation mark, because the question itself is not contained within the quotation)
  • When the days grew short and the snow drifted up to the windowpanes, Sven often wondered, “Why didn’t I move to Hawaii when I had the chance?” (question mark inside the quotation mark)

Extra Credit:

One exception to the rule for commas and periods is the MLA style for parenthetical documentation. If you’re quoting a source and citing that source in parentheses at the end of the sentence, the period should follow the parentheses. Example: In Free Culture Lawrence Lessig claims, “the Internet should at least force us to rethink the conditions under which the law of copyright automatically applies” (140).

Thank you, Susan, for your question!

This entry was posted in punctuation. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
Or, follow comments via email (without commenting yourself) here:

43 Responses to Quotation Marks

  1. Susan says:

    Thanks so much for your prompt and thorough reply to my punctuation questions.
    - Susan Shorters

  2. Anna Joy says:

    Hi. Two quick grammar questions. There seems to be some disagreement in our office as to the correct way to punctuate these two sentences. Please advise.
    Sentence #1: I have seen God frustate plans to keep me from “returning to the wall”! The placement of the exclamation point (whether inside or outside the quotation mark) is our question.
    Sentence #2: My first week back was spent acclimating to the time change (since I had to cross 12 time zones!) The placement of the exclamation point (whether inside or outside the parenthesis) is the question.
    Thanks for your quick reply – we’re putting a newsletter together and we want it to be correct!

  3. Karl says:

    Hi Anna,
    The exclamation point for the first sentence depends on whether the exclamation is contained within the quotation marks or includes the other part of the sentence as well. It looks to me as if the whole sentence is exclamatory, which would put the exclamation point outside the quotation marks as you have it.
    For sentence #2, the exclamation is contained with the parentheses, so the exclamation point should be placed inside as well. Follow the closing parenthesis with a period to end the sentence.
    Best wishes.

  4. Gini says:

    Can you use quotation marks inside parentheses? Example: ABC Company, Inc. (“the Company”) is located in Dallas, Texas.

  5. Karl says:

    Gini, it is perfectly acceptable to use quotation marks within parentheses. Go wild!

  6. Georgann says:

    Hi…we are confused about how to use quotes in a list.
    Some comments about our workshop:
    “This workshop was great” “We loved the workshop” and “I can’t wait until the next workshop”
    Should these phrases be separated with commas (inside or outside of the quotes) or with colons?
    Thanks for your help!

  7. Maggie says:

    Didn’t the rules for quotations marks change a few years back? I remember being taught that punctuation was places outside of the quotations marks as a child. I believe I was told that the rules were changed a few years back. Did this take place, and what year?
    Thank you,
    Maggie

  8. Karl says:

    Hi Maggie,
    I haven’t heard of any rule change as far as quotation marks go. I’m pretty sure someone fed you some false information. Besides, there isn’t any governing body that determines what the rules of the English language are. Instead, rules develop through tradition, usage, and consensus.

  9. Melissa says:

    I have a question about the floowing sentence and how it should be punctuated: Did you really exceed your sales goal by 40 percent, unbelievable. I am unsure if there should be a question mark at the end or not. Thanks!

  10. Karl says:

    Melissa, I would punctuate the sentence this way: Did you really exceed your sales goal by 40 percent? Unbelievable!

  11. Ericka says:

    A colleague and I are debating whether the period should be inside or outside of the quotation marks in this sentence:
    We are now going to show you a website called AOL’s “XYZ”. This website will open when you click on the link below.
    What do you think? I was taught that punctuation should always go inside of quotation marks, but he is saying there is an exception to this rule when referring to a title or something like that…
    Thanks in advance,
    E

  12. Karl says:

    Hi Ericka,
    If you’re writing in the United States or for a predominantly American audience, you should put the period inside the quotation marks. Your sentence should look like this:
    We are now going to show you a website called AOL’s “XYZ.”

  13. David Miller says:

    Is it okay to have a lowercase word following a quoted question that is part of a sentence?
    Example (capitalize “and”?):
    He asked “Can I have one?” and then took one without waiting for an answer.

  14. Karl says:

    Hi David,
    As far as I know, it is acceptable to have a lower-case letter where you have placed it. Also, a comma would be helpful after “asked.”

  15. Karen says:

    When listing quoted items in a series, should the commas and end mark always appear inside the quotes? Example: This song also uses personification when Furtado describes dreams that die, a son that wonders “if it should stay away”, the sky “falling on the clouds”, and the rain that “forgot to bring salvation”.

  16. Karl says:

    Hi Karen,
    Yes, if you are writing for an American audience, commas and periods should appear inside the quotation marks:
    “This song also uses personification when Furtado describes dreams that die, a son that wonders “if it should stay away,” the sky “falling on the clouds,” and the rain that “forgot to bring salvation.”
    Keep in mind, though, that other end marks — question marks and exclamation points — have different rules. Please see the entry above for a discussion of those rules and examples.

  17. Logan says:

    Hi.
    I would like to know if the punctuation in the following sentence is correct or not.
    “What have you ever done that is good for the community?” I asked him, “Like that prison? What good will that do. I think that this community needs someone to depend on!”
    I have been questioning whether the comma after, ‘I asked him,’ should be a period or not. This is my main problem.
    I really need to know as soon as possible.
    Thank you.

  18. Debbie says:

    Is there a period after the citing in this example?
    “…but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?” (Lincoln, 1861). Any contract, even one as….

  19. aleksey says:

    When you use a period after a quote do you start a new paragraph? for example
    The rain was very pretty that day.
    “My how pretty the rain is today.”
    She took her hand off the door.

  20. Henrik says:

    Here’s a unique quotation mark situation I have no clue about…help!
    Here’s the example:
    I AM A REGULAR LISTENER OF “WAIT, WAIT…DON’T TELL ME!” AND AM WONDERING HOW TO BE A CONTESTANT.
    So the show’s name actually has an exclamation point. Clearly that goes inside the quotation marks.
    My question is, if I put a comma in to separate “I am a regular listener of…” and “and am wondering how to be a contestant” — where does that comma go? Do I even need it in the first place with the subject of both clauses being “I”?
    What if the sentence is:
    I’VE NEVER HEARD THE SHOW “WAIT, WAIT…DON’T TELL ME!” THOUGH MY FRIENDS SAY IT’S THE GREATEST.
    Do I use a comma there? And if so, again, where does it go?!?
    Thanks and sorry to ramble.

  21. Why is it so “dead” here?,dont more people want to learn good english?
    Cordially Alex

  22. Karl says:

    Hi Alex,
    Thanks for your interest! I’m afraid the lack of activity here is my fault. I haven’t had much time recently to devote to the writing guide, or to the English Rules site in general. I have another blog that has been demanding a lot of my attention, a book that is still in the works, and a wife and kids, not to mention my day job and freelance web development work. In short, I’ve been a little busy.

  23. To bad this is a dead place says:

    Ahh,i see,i was just wondering :),i hope this site will gain more attention in the future :)
    Cordially Alex

  24. Jill says:

    Does an acronym (or a shortened descriptive word; see example 2) NEED to be placed in quotation marks within parentheses to indicate future usage of the acronym within a document? Or would using just parentheses be sufficient?
    Example 1: . . . under the applicable section of the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) for employees of . . .
    Example 2: . . . description of the XYZ Company 401(k) Plan (the “Plan”) is provided for . . .
    It is parenthetical, after all. Is additional punctuation necessary?
    Thank you.

  25. Karl says:

    Hi Jill,
    I’m afraid I’m not qualified to answer questions that pertain to a particular field (such as accounting, legal, medical). Your best bet is to consult a reputable style guide for your field.

  26. rh says:

    What is the reccomended punctuation when a sentence ends with a a quotation, parenthesis and a period?
    This happens at so and so time (refer to “random document “).

  27. David Bennett says:

    When quoting from one source from one paragraph to a second paragraph, is it necessary to close the quotes in the first paragraph before beginning the second paragraph?
    Then, is it necessary to open the second paragraph with quotes if the paragraph is a continuation of the quote from the previous paragraph?
    Here is an example:
    He answered, kindly, softly,
    “My son, please, understand:
    The pow’r of resurrection
    Doth first a death demand.

  28. Karl says:

    In the case of multiple stanzas of poetry (or multiple paragraphs of prose), I recommend using the block-quote format rather than quotation marks.

  29. Lucas says:

    If I have a character in a book that is continuing to speak from one paragraph to the next paragraph, do I omit the quotation marks at the end of the first paragraph but then begin the second paragraph with quotation? I add the closing quotation marks when the character stops speaking?

  30. Karl says:

    Yes, Lucas, that is correct.

  31. Beth says:

    Dear English Master,
    Thank you for your willingness to help through this forum! Would you please confirm that I’ve placed the comma properly in the sentence containing the quotation below?
    Mama came into the room, knitting furiously. “I am going into town this afternoon,” she announced to no one in particular.
    Thank you very much!

  32. Kristina says:

    I have a question that’s similar to one asked up a bit in the thread . . .I’ve noticed on Jeopardy! that when they refer to names of books or movies within a clue, they put any following punctuation outside of the quotation marks. So, for example:
    The book “To Kill a Mockingbird”, written by Harper Lee, depicts blah, blah, blah . . .
    I’ve always been taught to put that comma within the quotations but Jeopardy! seems to do this over and over again so now I’m wondering what’s correct.

  33. Aussie terms says:

    Just for anyone whose interested the British/Australian term for ‘quotation marks’ is ‘inverted commas’.
    Also ‘full stop’ instead of ‘period’.
    I’ve found single commas are common when wirting dialogue and double commas otherwise.

  34. Melody says:

    Do you ever put commas after quotation marks? A student recently asked me about her company’s mission statement, and the company’s slogans are in quotation marks, but because the commas are separating not only the slogans but the other parts of the sentences as well, I wondered if the commas might go after the quotation marks…?

  35. Angela says:

    A friend and I are debating this. We know parenthesis are ( ) and quotation marks are ” l” but can you use the word parenthesis to describe a quote? Is there any history to suggest that when describing a word in “quotes,” you can use the word “parenthesis?” Is there any cross over or is it set in stone? I hope that makes sense.

  36. debrajo says:

    How would you correctly write this sentence:
    “What is your name,” Taylor asked.
    Did I write it correctly, or should I have put a question mark where the period is?

  37. Sid says:

    You would repalce the comma with the the question mark, question marks must be inside the inverted commas(quotation marks).
    ‘What is your name?’ Taylor asked.

  38. Sassy says:

    when writing the sentence :
    It started out as a “joke”, according to espn sports, in which….
    Would you place the comma inside of the ” ” ? or would you leave it where it is?

  39. Jess says:

    If you are quoting a whole paragraph and it contains semicolons do you have to make several quotes so that the semicolons are not inside the quotation marks or do you just quote the whole paragraph?

  40. Doug says:

    What is the proper way to form a plural of a book title such as this one? The Book of Mormon; is it, Books of Mormon’s? Or is it, Book’s of Mormon? Most educated people tend to want to treat it thusly, Sharon had seven Book’s of Mormon.
    However, The Book of Mormon, actually contains several separate books attributed to a person named Mormon, within its own pages. It would seem that the last example above would refer to those books, not to the plural of the entire book. It would seem to require a plural, though awkward sounding, as follows: She has seven Book of Mormon’s, when referring to several of the same entire book by title. It makes my head hurt. Help.

  41. Michael Steiner says:

    So I understand that if a person is continuing to speak into a new paragraph of text, the end of the preceeding paragraph does not close the quotation marks, but the next paragraph does get opening quotes. However, if the speaker is addressing one entity in the first paragraph, and another entity in the second paragraph, even though she is still speaking, it seems in THAT case, the first paragraph should be closed. For example,
    “We will talk about this later, my dear,” she said to me. “We don’t have time right now.”
    “Now who would like ice cream with his cake?” she asked the rest of the room.
    IS THAT CORRECT? OR NO END QUOTES TO FIRST PARAGRAPH? Thank you.

  42. Karl says:

    Hi Michael,
    I would add the closing quotation mark to the first paragraph.

  43. Laura. says:

    Sorry if this has been asked before but I was just wondering when writing a sentence such as ;
    ‘We read of their living together being,