Punctuating with Quotation Marks: Part 1

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  • Nancy Tuten

    3 May 2015

    Punctuating with Quotation Marks: Part 1

    Each of these sentences contains an error involving the punctuation near the closing quotation marks.

    1. The suspect told the arresting officer, “I was nowhere near the crime”.
    2. “Walk to the corner”, she explained to the child, “and turn left”.
    3. John said, “I have just finished reading Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’.”
    4. The woman screamed to her son, “Stop pulling the dog’s tail”!
    5. What did you do when Paul said, “You can pay for dinner tonight?”

    RULE 1:

    ALL periods and commas ALWAYS go inside ALL quotation marks (i.e., single AND double). Thus, sentences 1, 2, and 3 should look like this:


    1. The suspect told the arresting officer, “I was nowhere near the crime.”
    2. “Walk to the corner,” she explained to the child, “and turn left.”
    3. John said, “I have just finished reading Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess.'”

    Keep in mind that periods and commas go inside even if only the last word in a sentence is in quotation marks and even when we have single quotation marks inside of double:

    • We were sorry to see that the sign on the door said “Closed.”
    • She wrote in her diary, “Everywhere we looked we found signs that read ‘Closed.'”

    RULE 2:

    Question marks and exclamation points can go inside OR out, depending on the meaning of the sentence in question. Thus, sentences 4 and 5 should look like this:

    1. The woman screamed to her son, “Stop pulling the dog’s tail!”
    2. What did you do when Paul said, “You can pay for dinner tonight”?

    In sentence 4, the part of the sentence that was exclaimed was the part inside the quotation marks, so the exclamation point belongs there.  In sentence 5, the larger sentence is the question (What did you do. . . ?), not the part inside the quotation marks, so the question mark belongs outside.

    See also our article “Punctuating with Quotation Marks: Part 2” on this site.

    TEST YOURSELF:

    How would you punctuate around the closing quotation marks in the following sentences?

    1. Bill asked Sandra, “Will you marry me”
    2. Did Sandra say to Bill, “We can be married in April”
    3. The director thundered furiously to the actors, “We are not leaving until everyone knows his or her lines “
    4. The librarian whispered emphatically to us, “The sign on the wall says ‘Quiet'”

    ANSWERS:

    1. Bill asked Sandra, “Will you marry me?”
    2. Did Sandra say to Bill, “We can be married in April”?
    3. The director thundered furiously to the actors, “We are not leaving until everyone knows his or her lines!”
    4. The librarian whispered to us, “The sign on the wall says ‘Quiet.'” [The period goes inside the double AND the single quotation marks.]

    ©2001 Get It Write. Revised 2018