quotation marks and punctuation

Quotation Marks & Punctuation

How to Use Quotation Marks and Punctuation – Grammar Matters

Quotations really help bring the printed word to life but getting the grammar right when using quotation marks and punctuation can be confusing. As usual, the Brits and Americans disagree about the rules so we cover both American and British English punctuation usage in quotations. Apart from the grammar rules there’s also the practical decision whether to use the traditional “ ” (66 99 style quotation marks), single curly quotation marks ‘ ’ or settle for the ” and ‘ straight quotation marks (inverted commas in British English) provided on most computer keyboards. Many online resources, including ADDucation, use the straight quotation marks simply because the keys are right there on the keyboard. For online and printed books, magazines, publications, poetry and anywhere typography is important use traditional quotation marks and punctuation.

Quotation Marks and Punctuation Summary:

  • American English: Periods and commas always go inside the closing quotation mark.
  • British English: Full stops and commas always go outside the closing quotation mark.
  • Semicolons, colons and dashes: Always go outside the closing quotation mark.
  • Question marks and exclamation points: Check the explanations and examples in the table.

ADDucation Tips: Click the + icon to show any hidden columns. Set your browser to full screen and zoom out to display as many columns as possible. Start typing in the Filter table box to find examples of quotation marks and punctuation inside the table.

Quotation Marks with:Quotation Marks and Punctuation Rule/s:American English ExamplesBritish English Examples
Periods (full stops) and commas
  • American English: Periods and commas always go inside the closing quotation mark.
  • British English: Full stops and commas can go inside or outside the closing quotation mark, depending what else is happening, refer to the examples.
  • “How dare you assume I’d like to go out with you,” he said, looking stunned.
  • Thank you for your so-called “help.
  • “Don’t underestimate me”, she said with a disarmingly friendly smile.
  • I can never remember how to spell “bureaucracy”.
Semicolons, colons, and dashesSemicolons, colons, and dashes always go outside quotation marks.
  • Maisie laughed at me saying, “you’ll never win the raffle” just before they pulled my number from the hat.
  • He couldn’t abide Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”; he played hooky in order to miss English classes.
  • He was always quoting the line from Oscar Wilde’s “Dorian Gray”: “To define is to limit.”
  • Bob snorted and said, “I don’t believe in zombies” right before thirty of them emerged from the tunnel.
  • Her favourite song was “Gangnam Style”; she spent weeks trying to learn the dance.
  • She sang her favourite line from “I Don’t Wanna Stop”: “You’re either in or in the way.”
Question marks and exclamation pointsWhere they go depends on your sentence:
  • If the ? or ! is part of your quotation, it stays inside the final quotation mark.
  • If the ? or ! are not part of the quotation, they go outside the closing quotation mark.
Part of the quotation:
  • Gerry sighed, “Must we have this discussion yet again?
  • Joe lost his rag and snapped, “No way Zak, you cannot borrow my car!

Not part of the quotation:

  • Do you actually like “Hamlet”?
  • I can’t wait to read John Irving’s new book “Avenue of Mysteries”!
Part of the quotation:
  • Reynold asked, “Can we have ice cream for dinner?
  • Mum snapped and shouted, “No, we cannot have ice cream for dinner!

Not part of the quotation:

  • Do you actually like “Gangnam Style”?
  • I can’t believe you lied to me about the ending of “The Sixth Sense”!
Single or double quotation marks / inverted commas
  • American English: Double quotation marks are used in almost all cases. Single quotation marks are only used to place a quotation within another quotation.
  • British English: Double and single inverted commas are commonly used interchangeably.
  • American English and British English both use single quotation marks to place a quotation within a quotation.

Readability can be improved using a space between the closing single and double quote:

  • ’” (without space)
  • ’ ”(with space)
  • He said: “I agree.”
  • She was quoted as saying: “I warned him very clearly: Touch that drawer and I’ll shoot.
  • She said: “Hello”.
  • The defendant testified as follows: “I heard Sam say, Hide the files from Delia.
  • The defendant testified as follows: I heard Sam say, Hide the files from Delia.
Commas inside quotations
  1. Add a comma after a title: When a title in a quotation ends with a question mark or exclamation point, add the comma.
  2. Omit comma before an attribution: When a quotation, in a quotation, ends with a question mark, leave out the comma.
  1. The poem we’re going to read today is “How Do I Love Thee?,” written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
  2. “Happy Easter,” Tigger said. “How many days until Easter?” Eeyore asked.
  1. The poem we’re going to read today is “How Do I Love Thee?,” written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
  2. “Happy Easter,” Tigger said. “How many days until Easter?” Eeyore asked.

Grammar Rules Made to be Broken?

  • Technical writing or coding examples which illustrate something the reader should enter into a text box should leave commas, periods (full stops) outside the quotation marks because it’s important the user doesn’t enter the punctuation into the text box.
  • In most situations where it’s tempting to break the rules a better method is often to use bold or italics or colored text to highlight text or place the instructions on a separate line.

Quotation Marks Trivia History

American English and British English differ because, when metal type was commonly used to compose text for printing by compositors, the rule was to place periods (full stops) and commas inside quotation marks to help protect the slender small metal type pieces from falling off or being broken off. In the early 20th century, a famous British style guide “The King’s English” (written by Fowler Brothers) arbitrarily decided “logic” overruled practical typesetting so the British moved full stops (periods) and commas outside quotation marks. This change never made it across to America, which is why there are two different styles today.

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