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Do Commas And Periods Go Inside Or Outside Quotation Marks?


I recently fielded a question about punctuation from a loyal Facebook follower and friend. He asked this: "Question, O Grammar Guru ... When a 'quote' ends the sentence, sentence-ending punctuation inside or outside the quotes? Or, should I just wait for an upcoming blog?"


The quick answer is inside the quotation marks, and I didn't even make him wait for this blog! But I wanted to talk a little more about this topic since there are exceptions to everything.


Here are a few basic examples to get you on the right track.


Commas and periods


In the United States, commas and periods go inside the quotation marks. For example:


"I have no idea what you are talking about," Steve said.


"It was a total and unimaginable disaster," Mike said. "I didn't know what to do."


"There isn't anywhere else I'd rather be," Leslie said with a smile.


Exclamation points and question marks


Most of the time, you're going to be correct in following the same rule of thumb as above. But in some cases, exclamation points and question marks must be placed outside of quotation marks if they apply to the whole sentence rather than just the quoted part. For example:


Mike said emphatically, "Steve is awesome!"


"Come on. Is he really that awesome?" Jane said with a sarcastic tone.


Does Jane really not agree with the statement, "Steve is awesome"?


Colons and semicolons


Again, there are different rules here, too. Unlike their counterparts above, colons and semicolons go outside of sentence-ending quotation marks.


Jackson said, "I didn't steal the toy"; this was one situation he wasn't going to get blamed for.


The documents refer to Sally's worst trait as "The Sally Effect": she lies about everything, rarely showers, and can't hold down a decent job.


My personal preference with colons and semicolons is to break up the sentence into smaller chunks when possible. This way, you don't have to bother using them. For example:


Jackson said, "I didn't steal the toy." This was one situation he wasn't going to get blamed for.


The documents refer to Sally's worst trait as "The Sally Effect": she lies about everything, rarely showers, and can't hold down a decent job.


Quotation marks inside quotation marks

This section is slightly off-topic, but it's just as confusing to a lot of people. Always use single quotation marks when quoting something that is inside double quotation marks. For example:


"We tell the kids all the time, 'Control what you can control. The other stuff doesn't matter,'" Frank said. "Thankfully, they do a good job of listening to that advice."


Alicia added, "I couldn't help but say to myself, 'Come on, girl. You've got this.'"


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It's fun to tease friends on Facebook for grammar mistakes or point out errors in other written copy. But any spelling or grammar error in business writing – brochures, website copy, blog posts, press releases, newsletters, etc. – wreak havoc on your company's image.

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*STEVE GAMEL is the President & Owner of Edit This, a writing and editing services company located in Denton, TX. Steve handles anything involving the written word. Give him a call today to help give your business a clear voice.


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