Quotation marks (” “) are a beloved form of punctuation in the English language, used to indicate a verbatim report on what someone said, and used in a great deal of business writing. They are often misused. This article will explain some punctuation rules and clear up some misconceptions held by many about proper usage of quotation marks with other punctuation marks.
When to Put Periods and Commas Inside Quotes – The United States
In the United States, commas and periods ALWAYS go INSIDE the quotation marks, whether or not the comma is actually part of the quotation.
Here are some examples from some recent discussions on LinkedIn. Don’t expect this rule to be logical:
CORRECT (in US): E.g. stands for “exempli gratia.”
CORRECT (in US): As for [the phrase] “graduating college,” I’m not sure when it became correct.
INCORRECT (in US): You are my “go-to person”.
INCORRECT (in US): I was unaware of the difference [between initialisms and acronyms] until I heard it on the NPR program “A Way With Words”.
INCORRECT (in US): “Its” is the possessive form of “it”, and is rare among possessives…
When to Put Periods and Commas Inside Quotes – The UK & Australia
Leave logic to the Brits. In the UK and Australia, they keep punctuation inside the quotation marks only when it is part of the quotation. For example:
CORRECT (in UK): I was unaware of the difference [between initialisms and acronyms] until I heard it on the NPR program “A Way With Words”.
CORRECT (in UK): You are my “go-to person”.
CORRECT (in UK): “Its” is the possessive form of “it”, and is rare among possessives…
INCORRECT (In UK): E.g. stands for “exempli gratia.”
INCORRECT (in UK): As for [the phrase] “graduating college,” I’m not sure when it became correct.
When the Period or Comma is Part of the Quotation
If the punctuation mark is part of the quotation, always put it inside the quotation marks!
INCORRECT (everywhere): It is written, “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”.
CORRECT (everywhere): It is written, “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Punctuating Letter Names
Some grammarians say we should use the logical way of punctuating in the case of letters. For example:
- The eighth letter of the alphabet is “h”.
- Name three words that start with an “e”, and three that start with a “k”.
I prefer to avoid this issue by italicizing the names of letters:
- The eighth letter of the alphabet is h.
- Name three words that start with an e, and three that start with a k.
Exclamation Points and Question Marks
When it comes to exclamation points and question marks, we all get to be logical. If the quote is a question or exclamation, include the punctuation inside the quotation marks. If it’s not, don’t.
- She asked, “Which way is it to the theater?”
- Did she say, “I absolutely love the theater, darling”?
- I’m so excited to see “In the Heights”!
- I get chills every time I hear King Richard declare, “Off with his head!”
Semicolons and Colons
Here’s some more good news: We get to be logical with semicolons and colons too!
- The following items go in the bin labeled “Paper Recycling”: magazines, newspapers, envelopes, and clean cardboard.
- Put magazines, newspapers, and envelopes in the bin labeled “Paper Recycling”; do not put paper towels, tissues, or greasy pizza boxes in there!
(It’s so much fun to sneak a public service announcement into a grammar blog!)
What if I’m Canadian?
All bets are off (or on, as the case may be), in Canada. Do it the way you think your readers will expect you to do it, or the way your editor requires you to do it. As far as I can tell, you get to choose unless under prescription by someone else.
There are many more subtleties to the use of quotation marks. If you have questions, ask The Essay Expert. I’m happy to provide my most educated answer. If you’re not already on our Grammar & Writing Tips e-list and you’d like more tips like this, sign up here.