Does Punctuation Go Inside Or Outside Of Quotation Marks?

Quotation marks are common in writing, but it can be tricky to learn how to punctuate them correctly. If you’ve ever been writing a quote and found yourself wondering if that exclamation point should go inside the quotation marks or outside of them, you definitely aren’t alone.

Here’s a quick guide to using punctuation with quotation marks like a pro, and you can quote us on that.

What are quotation marks?

Quotation marks have several uses in writing. As their name suggests, they’re often used to mark the beginning and end of quotes or dialogue. They can also be used to set off titles of certain works or to indicate slang, mottos, single letters, and translations.

Finally, you can use quotation marks around a word or phrase when you need to show that you’re discussing the use of that word or phrase, rather than using it as part of the sentence.

Let’s look at some examples of how to punctuate these different usages.

How to punctuate quotation marks in writing

Using periods and commas with quotation marks

In American usage, periods and commas typically go inside of quotation marks. When you’re quoting someone’s exact words, introduce the quote with open quotation marks, and end the quote with a period or comma and closing quotation marks.

 

  • The teacher said, “Your essay is due on Monday.”
  • “I am so tired,” Mom said as she sat down on the couch.

It is common to begin quotes with a comma before the opening quotation mark; however, this is not required in all writing styles. The most important thing is to keep your writing consistent. If you’re splitting a quote into two separate parts, you’ll end the first section with a comma inside of the quotes and begin the second section with another comma inside the quotes: “The problem is,” Rachel said, “no one wants to listen to anyone else’s opinion.”

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A quick note on punctuating British vs. American English

While Americans place periods and commas inside of quotation marks, those in the UK do the opposite. In British English, all punctuation marks go outside of the quotation marks unless the punctuation is a part of the material being quoted.

Brits also use single quotation marks for standard quotes and double quotation marks for quotes within a quote. Once again, Americans do the opposite, defaulting to double quotation marks for standard quotes, and only using single quotations when quoting something within another quote.

 

  • American English: “I remember he said, ‘Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.’”
  • British English: ‘I remember he said, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”’

Punctuating single words, letters, and partial sentences

If you’re using quotation marks with single letters, translations, mottos, or slang, you’ll put opening and closing quotation marks around the specific word, letter, or phrase. If it’s at the end of the sentence, the period will go inside the quotation marks.

 

  • His name starts with a “B.”
  • In French, bonjour means “hello.”
  • An obnoxious, entitled, and often racist middle-aged white woman is known as a “Karen.”

If you quote a complete sentence, begin the quote with a capital letter. If you’re only quoting a piece of a sentence, begin with a lowercase letter. If either instance comes at the end of the sentence, the period will go inside of the quotation marks.

 

    • Their team motto is “Talent wins games, but teamwork wins trophies.”
    • The teacher said the kids had “no idea” how to play the game.
    • They said I can’t be promoted because I’m “too disorganized.”

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Using question marks and exclamation points with quotes

How you use exclamation points and question marks with quotes will depend on what you’re writing. Overall, you can stick to this basic rule: question marks and exclamation points go inside quotation marks if they are a part of the quoted matter. If they punctuate the sentence as a whole, they go outside of the quotation marks.

 

  • Grace asked, “What toppings do you want on your pizza?”
  • Who said “four score and seven years ago”?
  • Jerome yelled, “There’s a bug on your arm!”
  • She really tried to tell me my birthday was “just another day”!

What if you’re asking a question, and it includes a quote that is also a question? In that case, you would use only one question mark, and it will go inside of the quotation marks: Did she really say, “Why are you doing that?”

Colons, semicolons, and dashes

Colons, dashes, and semicolons almost always go outside of quotation marks. The only exception is if the colon, semicolon, or dash is a part of the sentence you are quoting.

 

  • The publicist reviewed media requests marked “urgent”; she ignored the rest.
  • She always gave the same tip: “Don’t share your password.”
  • “Now”—he stood and walked to the door—“it’s time for you to leave.”

Spruce up your writing, and your reader's reaction, with one of these unique punctuation marks.