The Ins or Outs of Ending Punctuation with Quotation Marks

Quotations-2Sometimes quotation marks at the end of a sentence are a problem. Do you put the period, question mark, or exclamation point inside or outside the quotation mark?

Like many rules of punctuation, the answer depends on what meaning you want to convey.

Periods

For periods the answer is somewhat arbitrary and depends on which style you follow. If you follow American style, the answer is the period almost always goes inside the quotation mark.

Clarice didn’t tell Rudolph he looked “sick.”

If you follow British rules the answer is the period always goes outside the quotation mark.

Clarice didn’t tell Rudolph he looked “sick.”

There are a few exceptions, however to American style. One exception is that if the quoted material is the title of something, the period goes outside the quotation mark.

John finished reading “War and Peace”.

Another is if you are using the quotation marks for emphasis. In this case, the Chicago Manual of Style recommends following the British convention of placing the period outside the ending quotation mark. But the Associated Press Stylebook recommends placing the period inside the ending quotation mark. See Using Quotation Marks for Emphasis for more information.

Question Marks and Exclamation Points

For question marks and exclamation points, the answer depends on whether the quotation or the sentence containing the quotation is a question or exclamation. If the quotation marks enclose a question or exclamation, the question mark or exclamation point goes inside the quotation mark.

1. The police officer asked, “Where were you last Thursday night?”
2. The police officer shouted, “Stop thief!”

But if the entire sentence is an question or exclamation, the ending punctuation goes outside the quotation mark.

3.  Did the police officer really ask, “Where were you last Thursday night”?
4. How dare you tell me, “I didn’t hear you shout, ‘Stop this instant’ “!

Notice the two sentences above weren’t written this way:

5. Did the police officer really ask, “Where were you last Thursday night?”?
6. How dare you tell me, “I didn’t hear you shout, ‘Stop this instant!’ “!

Why not? The reason is to avoid confusing the reader with unnecessary punctuation. Both 3 and 5 convey the same information, but 5 causes the reader to stop and decipher the odd ending punctuation. The same with 4 and 6.

If the tone of the quotation and sentence differ, however, each must have its own appropriate ending punctuation.

7. Are you sure the police officer shouted, “Stop thief!”?
8. I’m quite sure the police offer didn’t ask, “Stop thief?”!

Example 7 indicates a question, while example 8 indicates an indignant tone.

Hopefully this article has helped clarify how to use ending punctuation with quotation marks for you. For addition comments about quotation marks, see “Two Uses for Quotation Marks.”

As Writing Jim, Jim Driggers provides copywriting and business process writing to owners of small and medium-sized businesses. His clients gain sales through marketing text that better resonates with their customers, and they save money when their employees follow guides rather than impulses. His clients give themselves the time to focus on what they do well when they leave their writing to Writing Jim.

For copywriting help with your print or online content or for help systematizing your business processes, contact Writing Jim at [email protected] or 925-231-5825. Visit www.writingjim.com for more information.

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One Response to The Ins or Outs of Ending Punctuation with Quotation Marks

  1. Excellent article as always! When it comes to this type of stuff, in my mind, it never looks right, even when it’s right – I avoid writing sentences with quotations or parenthetical asides towards the end. Just the “look” seems to disrupt a smooth reading experience, IMHO.