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Writing Tip: January 18, 2002

More on Punctuating with Quotation Marks

About a year ago, we wrote a tip on the proper way to punctuate sentences containing quotation marks. (To review that tip, look in the tip archive for 01/08/01.) Recently, a visitor to the tip archive wrote to ask about situations not covered in the tip.

She noted that all our examples were of dialogue within a sentence. "Do the same rules apply in other situations involving quotation marks?" she asked. The answer is yes: in all cases of usage involving quotation marks (American usage, not European), commas and periods always go inside the quotation marks while semicolons and colons always go outside. (Please see the original tip for the rules governing question marks and exclamation points.)

Specifically, the visitor wondered about a series of titles, as in this example:

-- This month's issue of Grammar Guru magazine contains articles entitled "Making Every Comma Count," "Punctuate or Perish," and "The Write Way."

Notice that the commas separating the titles are inside the quotation marks.

We should also place periods and commas inside the quotation marks that we use in other situations, such as to suggest that a word is being used in a special or ironic sense, to show that we are referring to a word as a word, or to mark the definition of a word or words. Here are some examples:

-- A three-hundred-pound gorilla eats quite a few "snacks," so the zoo keeper must closely monitor the animal's daily intake.

-- A lottery ticket holder who breaks even is counted as a "winner"; thus, statistics about one's odds of winning are misleading.

-- Sam sprinkles his conversations with the word "amen," although he really pays very little attention to what other people are saying.

-- The Latin verb "duco" means "to lead," "to consider," or "to prolong."

Note that in the fourth sentence, we could have used italics instead of quotation marks for the verb "duco," which is a word being used as a word. Also note that italics or underlining--not quotation marks--should be used to emphasize a word or phrase.

Are these sentences punctuated correctly?

1. Margaret read a magazine article titled "Living in the Country;" four days later she sold her house in the suburbs and moved to a farm.

2. The instructor read the class three poems by Robert Frost: "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," "Design," and "Directive."

3. Sarina's father is the most eccentric man I know, but Sarina excuses his behavior as "artistic license".


1. "Living in the Country";
3. "artistic license."

Copyright Get It Write 2002

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