Punctuation inside or outside the closing quotation marks?
Isn’t that a tough one? You see quotations punctuated every which way, mostly wrong. It’s just not easy, but we do have some helpful rules.
First let’s agree that we follow the rules of American English. We love our brothers and sisters to the north, but we don’t always punctuate the way they do. Canadians use British English, and they sometimes punctuate quotations differently than we do.
Here are the fairly simple rules to punctuate the end of a quotation:
1. Periods and commas always go inside the closing quotation marks. Always, no exception. Matters not how long or short the quotation is. If it’s a one-word quotation, the comma or period still goes inside. You can count on that. Here are some examples:
· This is the kind of weather I would call “tropical.”
· She said, “I would say this weather is of the tropical variety.”
· “I find this weather rather tropical,” she said.
2. Colons and semicolons always outside. Firm rule – no exceptions. No quotation can end with a colon or semicolon, because those two marks always indicate more to come. If there’s more to come, it’s not the end. Here are some examples of colons and semicolons at the end of a quotation (which is somewhat rare):
· The teacher explained five examples of “hegemony”: 1. First, the act of…
· I don’t know much about “marital bliss”; do you?
3. So what about question marks? It varies, but there’s a simple rule: If the quotation itself is a question, the question mark goes inside the closing quotation marks. If the quotation is only part of the larger question, the question mark goes outside the closing quotation marks. Examples:
· John asked, “Who grew that giant pumpkin?” (The quotation is John’s question.)
· Who is responsible for that “ginormous pumpkin”? (“Ginormous pumpkin” is a quotation within the question.)
4. Same with exclamation points – inside or out. If the quotation itself is an exclamation, the exclamation point goes inside the closing quotes (to end the quoted exclamation). If the quotation is only part of a larger exclamation, the exclamation point goes outside the closing quotation marks. Examples:
· “What a huge pumpkin!” cried the little girl. (Her quotation is an exclamation.)
· Imagine calling that monstrosity a “pumpkin”! (Quoted word within exclamation.)
The good news is that you’re going to come across a lot more commas and periods than other marks of punctuation, and commas and periods are the easiest: Always inside the closing quotation marks when writing American English. Actually the rule about colons and semicolons isn’t that hard because: a) You won’t need it that often; and b) It’s just logical: nothing can end with a colon or semicolon, so a quotation cannot end that way either – put them outside! As for the other two (question mark and exclamation point), you just have to ask yourself where the question or exclamation truly ends.
It’s still confusing, isn’t it? If you need help, just contact Tamarack Communication. No charge for a little punctuation advice now and then!