Does Punctuation Go Inside Quotation Marks?

Whether you’re writing dialogue or citing information in a paper, it’s natural to wonder about quotation mark rules. Does punctuation go inside quotation marks? The answer depends on the type of punctuation you are using. This simple break-down, including American and British rules, and quick reference guide will help.

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Quick Reference Guide for Punctuation and Quotation Marks

The following table shows how to place your punctuation in relation to the closing quotation mark in a passage or sentence. This is a general guideline. For more specific rules and exceptions, see below.

Punctuation Mark

General Rule on Placement

Example Sentence

Period

Inside quotation marks

She said, “I got lost on the way to the park.”

Comma

Inside quotation marks

“I’ll trade you three blue beads for that feather,” Lola said.

Question mark

Inside quotation marks

The girl picked up the cat and said, “Don’t you want to wear this doll dress, Kitty?”

Exclamation point

Inside quotation marks

“Hey!” Ella yelled. “That’s my donut, not yours!”

Colon or semicolon

Outside quotation marks

The report listed “one primary reason native speakers frequently mix up punctuation”: the rules are difficult to remember.

Parenthesis

Outside quotation marks

Under her breath, Sophie muttered, “I sure hope she appreciates this.” (She was tired of helping her sister clean her room.)

Punctuation Almost Always Inside Quotation Marks

Wondering whether to put a period inside or outside quotes? The correct choice is almost always inside. In American usage, commas and periods at the end of quotes always go inside the quotation marks. In British usage, they can go either inside or outside.

American style guides, such as Associated Press (AP), Modern Language Association (MLA), and The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago), all follow the American rule when it comes to commas and periods. And you should note that commas and periods go before closing quotation marks, regardless of whether they are single or double quotes. For example:

  • He said, "I'll be going to the party later."
  • "When you have finished your time out," her dad said, "you must go to mom and say 'I'm sorry.' "

Commas Inside Quotation Marks

Some more examples of commas used inside quotation marks are:

  • "Don't be late for class," the teacher said.
  • "I am never talking to him again," my sister said angrily.
  • "It snowed last night," said Sam.

Periods Inside Quotation Marks

Some more examples of periods used inside of quotation marks are:

  • Anne called the boys "mean and nasty."
  • In his most charming manner he said, "I never give up."
  • She told him to neatly write the word "Holiday."
  • Alan's assignment is to read Wordsworth's "Daffodils."
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Important Exception: When the Quoted Word Is a User Input

In technical writing or even in daily life, you may find situations where someone needs to input a specific word or phrase into a computer. If you include the punctuation in the quoted section, this may cause the user to input the punctuation as well as the actual word or phrase. In this case, put the punctuation outside the quotes, as in these examples:

  • My user ID is “IM47g”.
  • Did you try the password “mycatisawesome”?
  • The mouse walking across the keyboard accidentally entered the code to launch the missile, “KaBoom35*”.

Punctuation That Varies in Placement

In American English, the general rule for question marks and exclamation marks (or points) is this: If the quoted material ends with a question mark or an exclamation mark, the punctuation should be inside the quotation marks. However, if the question mark or exclamation mark is not directly part of the quote, then the punctuation should go outside the quotation marks.

When Exclamation Points and Question Marks Go Inside

As you can see here, if the quote itself is an exclamation or question, the punctuation mark is contained within the quotation marks:

  • Anthony asked, "Can we have pizza again for dinner?"
  • Mom shouted, "I said don't throw the ball in the house!"
  • I cried out to the child, "Watch for the ice!"

When Exclamation Points and Question Marks Go Outside

If the quoted words are embedded within a sentence that is an exclamation or question, then the punctuation goes outside the quotation marks, like this:

  • Who said the line, "I'm the king of the world"?
  • How did the coach know it was me who said, "I don't want to be on this team"?
  • You have to read the article "UFOs Are Real"!
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Punctuation That Goes Outside Quotation Marks

There are certain punctuation marks that always go outside quotation marks. Here, both American and British English follow the same rule. Punctuation marks that go outside are:

The following are examples of punctuation marks that stay outside quotes:

  • The speaker listed three "secrets of success": confidence, perseverance, and passion.
  • His favorite team is the "Rams"; he has never missed any of their games.
  • She laughed and said, "I don't think he will pass his driving test" - then he pulled up in front of the house.

Basic Style Guide Rules

The following are rules for punctuating inside closing quotation marks according to the standard American style guides:

  • MLA: Commas and periods directly following quotations always go inside closing quotation marks. Question marks can vary depending if the question is part of the quote, then the punctuation mark goes inside the quotation marks. If the question is not part of the direct quote, it goes outside.
  • AP: All punctuation goes inside the closing quotation marks. This includes commas, periods, question marks, and exclamation points.
  • Chicago: Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation points that are part of the original quote are included inside quotation marks.

Proper Use of Punctuation

Knowing whether punctuation goes inside or outside of closing quotation marks is an important rule to learn and follow. With some practice, you will soon be punctuating your quotations with ease. Using punctuation properly can make your writing more credible and convey what you intend to portray to the reader more easily.