Additional Punctuation Rules When Using Quotation Marks
A rundown of the general rules of when and where to use quotation marks.
Contributors:Sean M. Conrey, Mark Pepper, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2015-06-23 01:06:32
Use a comma to introduce a quotation after a standard dialogue tag, a brief introductory phrase, or a dependent clause.
The detective said, "I am sure who performed the murder."
As D.H. Nachas explains, "The gestures used for greeting others differ greatly from one culture to another."
Put commas and periods within quotation marks, except when a parenthetical reference follows.
He said, "I may forget your name, but I never forget a face."
History is stained with blood spilled in the name of "civilization."
Mullen, criticizing the apparent inaction, writes, "Donahue's policy was to do nothing" (24).
Place colons and semicolons outside closed quotation marks.
Williams described the experiment as "a definitive step forward"; other scientists disagreed.
Benedetto emphasizes three elements of what she calls her "Olympic journey": family support, personal commitment, and great coaching.
Place a question mark or exclamation point within closing quotation marks if the punctuation applies to the quotation itself. Place the punctuation outside the closing quotation marks if the punctuation applies to the whole sentence.
Phillip asked, "Do you need this book?"
Does Dr. Lim always say to her students, "You must work harder"?
The general rule is, If a quote appears in the middle of a sentence, change any final period on the quote to a comma. If the quote ends with a question mark or exclamation point, leave this symbol intact. Do not add a comma. So for example:
"Give me the box," John said.
"Give me the box!" John screamed.
"Will you give me the box?" John asked.
(See Modern Language Association Handbook, section 3.7.7 in the 6th edition)
If the exclamation or question mark is not part of the quote, put it outside the quotation marks.
Why did John say, "Give me the box"?
Tangential note: When you need a comma or a period after a quote, the "American style" is to put it inside the quote marks, while the "British style" is to put it outside the quote marks.
Even though I am an American, I think the British style is more easily readable and clearer. For example:
American: Today we learned the words "apple," "pear," "orange," and "grape."
British: Today we learned the words "apple", "pear", "orange", and "grape".
The British just seems clearer and more easily readable to me.
Also, the British avoids ambiguity. This came home to me once when I was writing instructions on how to enter numbers into a computer system. I wrote that the user should not enter any decimal point following a number. Then I gave as an example:
Don't enter "14." Instead enter "14."
Well, this is not at all clear in American style. But in British style it makes perfect sense -- subtle maybe, but at least the reader could figure it out:
Don't enter "14.". instead enter "14".