Quotation marks with periods and commas

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.

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.)

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.”

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

No-nonsense guide: How to use quotation marks

Punctuation can be a pain. The 2016 AP Stylebook dedicates 11 dense pages to explaining its intricacies—and the Chicago Manual of Style’s punctuation chapter (yes, chapter) stretches across more than 40 pages.

Quotation marks are a common victim of abuse. Confusion abounds, from the use of Dr. Evil–style “air quotes” around “any word” the author wants to “emphasize” to uncertainty around comma and period placement (inside or outside the quotation marks?).

Leff Communications is here to help. We offer a handy list of no-nonsense rules that, as with our other posts on grammar and style, are the perfect passive-aggressive thing to send to a coworker who thinks every word is ironic enough to warrant quotation marks. These rules apply regardless of the style guide you use (AP, Chicago style, etc.).

Single or double?

In American English,* we use double quotation marks.

“I’m going to bed,” she said. (NOT: ‘I’m going to bed,’ she said.)

Ending commas and periods

In American English,* the period and the comma always go inside the quotation marks, regardless of whether they were part of the original quotation. Let me repeat that for those in the back: put the commas and periods inside the quotation marks.

“I really appreciate a well-formed sentence,” he announced. “It gives me all the feels.”

If the quoted material ends in a question mark or an exclamation point, don’t add a period. “Timber!” (NOT “Timber!.”)

Other ending punctuation

  • Put other marks (dashes, exclamation points, question marks, and semicolons) inside the quotation marks if they apply to the quoted matter but outside if they apply to the whole sentence.
  • Twain wrote, “If books are not good company, where will I find it?”
  • BUT Was it Twain who wrote, “Always obey your parents when they are present”?

Quotes within quotes

This is where single quotation marks come into play. When you’re placing quotes within quotes, alternate between double and single quotation marks. But still be sure to start with double quotation marks.

“I’m not sure what she means by ‘quantamental investing,’” he said.

Note that the comma comes before the single quotation mark, and there is no space between the single quotation mark and the double quotation mark.

Introductory punctuation

  1. Commas and colons can be used to introduce quoted materials.
  2. He wrote, “The economy’s growth trajectory is strong.”
  3. His book is summarized in its first sentence: “Our economy has nothing to fear from environmental regulation.”

No introductory punctuation

  • Often, quoted material flows directly from your introductory text and no punctuation is needed.
  • Though he offered little evidence of their crimes, his call to “round up all the scoundrels, lock them up, and throw away the key” has riled the public.
  • Shakespeare coined the phrases “brevity is the soul of wit” and “good riddance,” among many others.


Do not use quotation marks to emphasize a word. Just don’t. It’s wrong.

The strength of your words should make any formatting unnecessary, but if you really want to emphasize something, use boldface or italics. Underlining damages readability, and caps lock is inappropriate in running text (and too yell-y).


You can, however, use quotation marks around a word or words used in an ironical sense.

The “fund-raiser” was really a scam to line the alderman’s own pockets.

Q&A articles

  1. Quotation marks are not required in a Q&A that identifies questions and answers with “Q:” and “A:.”
  2. Q: What makes a great leader?
  3. A: The ability to adapt.

*British English

  • Note that British English uses single quotation marks in the same way we use double and places all punctuation—including periods and commas—outside the closing quotation mark.
  • ‘I’m going to bed’, she said.
  • This is un-American and should be avoided at all costs.

Want to learn more?

We read the style guides so you don’t have to. Check out our definitive guide to hyphens, em dashes, and en dashes, learn what bogus writing rules you can ditch, and spruce up your writing with four of our favorite schemes.

Quotation Marks: Where Do the Periods and Commas Go–And Why?

  • Quotation Marks: Where Do the Commas and Periods Go–and Why?
  • byTina Blue
  • March 17, 2002

    Whenever we have to use a question mark or an exclamation point with a sentence that ends in a quotation, we follow the dictates of logic in determining where the question mark or exclamation point goes.  If it is part of the quotation itself, we put it inside the quotation marks, and if it governs the sentence as a whole but not the material being quoted, we put it outside the quotation marks.

See also:  Words named after people

~Have you read the assigned short story, “Flowering Judas”?

  ~No, but I did finally get around to reading last week's assignment,  “Where Are They Now?”

    When it comes to commas and periods, though, logic doesn't enter into the equation, at least not in the United States.  Universal American usage places commas and periods inside the quotation marks, regardless of logic. 

  1. ~“Diane,” she said, “put the book down and go outside for a little while.”
  2. ~“I will in a minute,” she replied, “as soon as I finish this chapter.”
  3.     This rule applies even when the unit enclosed at the end of the sentence is just a single word rather than an actual quotation:
  4. ~To get to the next page, just press the little button marked “Enter.”
  5. The onlyexception is when that last little item enclosed in quotation marks is just a letter or a number, in which case the period or comma will go outside the closing quotation marks:
  6. ~The buried treasure was marked on the map with a large “X”.
  7. ~The only grade that will satisfy her is an “A”.
  8. ~On this scale, the highest ranking is a “1”, not a “10”.
  9.     Of course, if another set of words or a parenthetical citation gets between the quoted material and the end of a sentence, then the comma or period will follow the intervening elements:
  10.     ~“Diane, put the book down and go outside” was what her mother said, but what Diane heard was “Blahblahblahblah” or something even less meaningful.
  11.     ~The question is whether the persona is expressing a death wish in those identical final lines, “And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep” (15-16).

    Now, keep in mind that this comma and period inside the quotation marks business is strictly American usage.  The British don't do it that way.

  They are inclined to place commas and periods logically rather than conventionally, depending on whether the punctuation belongs to the quotation or to the sentence that contains the quotation, just as we do with question marks and exclamation points.

Since most of my international students were taught in schools that followed the British system, I tell them to continue placing their commas and periods as they were taught.  In the first place, most of them will soon return to their home countries, so it would be silly to force them to switch to our style for the few years that they are here.

    But even more important is the matter of consistency.  If we try to force international students to adopt the American style, they will end up mixing the two styles, sometimes placing commas and periods inside, sometimes outside quotation marks.  It is far better for them to continue using the British style than to incongruously blend the two.

    My American students, though, don't get to choose.  They have to do it the American way, just as they have to drive on the right side of the street, even though the British drive on the left side. (Of course, the British also drive on the right side when they are in this country, so maybe that's not such a good comparison.)

    Anyway, the point is that if you are an American, you need to keep your commas and periods inside your closing quotation marks, where they belong.*


* And just why, you may ask, do

Word Play: putting quotation marks and punctuation in their place – Quietly Blog

Word Play is a series for the grammar police, former English majors, word nerds, pedants, and people who are curious about the evolution of language, grammar, standardization, style, and prose. Be warned: this series will get very political. Red ink may bleed.

Haven’t you learned by now that nothing is absolutely right or wrong? That grammar and practices is all relative? Except double spaces after a period, that’s just stupid.

Today, we’re putting to rest constant internet wars about the “correct way” to use punctation and quotation marks. Are they placed inside or outside of punctuation? It honestly depends on where you live. The differences between British and American English are just different enough to create passionate fire between Grammar fascists.

In Britain, the rules are at the will of a writer to determine whether the period or comma belongs with the quotation marks or with the greater sentence. American English does not allow for freedoms such as this. In most style guides in the US, periods and commas go inside the closing quotation mark for periods and commas.

“Grammar is a fickle beast.”

“Oxford Commas are the worst,” said someone drinking the haterade.

However, it does not apply for all punctuation. Semicolons, colons, asterisks, and dashes have quotation marks outside the closing quotation mark.

  • “This doesn’t make any sense”; clearly, she didn’t understand.
  • “The rules of a colon”: place colons outside the closing quotation mark.
  • “Please explain this to me.”*

“Who came up with this?”—it is so strange.

I’d also be remiss to not to include question marks and exclamation points, which have a very specific need-based rule placed upon them. And the rules apply for both American English and British English! If the whole sentence is structured as a question and not just what is quoted, question marks and exclamation points go outside of the closing quotation mark.

Did you know that this is one of the most overlooked “rules”?

If the entire quote is question or exclamation, then question marks and exclamation points stay inside the closing quotation mark.

“Why are you questioning this rule, Americans?”

It is indeed strange. Welcome to American English and grammar. Most of the American publications you read will abide by these rules. But remember that Americans’ older, more polite British cousins and their publications have a different set of rules.

Ones that make more sense to Slate’s Ben Yagoda, who argues that British English is more logical than American English’s aesthetic grammar. He also comes to the same conclusion of this blog: people are too patriotic to their grammar style of choice.

If not for nothing, the next time you use air quotes, consider whether or not you want to use American or British English Grammar Standards.


Image credit: blog.Tuesday.com

Quotation Marks

Use quotation marks [ “ ” ] to set off material that represents quoted or spoken language.

Quotation marks also set off the titles of things that do not normally stand by themselves: short stories, poems, and articles.

Usually, a quotation is set off from the rest of the sentence by a comma; however, the typography of quoted material can become quite complicated. Here is one simple rule to remember:

In the United States, periods and commas go inside quotation marks regardless of logic. Click HERE for an explanation (sort of).

In the United Kingdom, Canada, and islands under the influence of British education, punctuation around quotation marks is more apt to follow logic. In American style, then, you would write: My favorite poem is Robert Frost's “Design.

” But in England you would write: My favorite poem is Robert Frost's “Design”. The placement of marks other than periods and commas follows the logic that quotation marks should accompany (be right next to) the text being quoted or set apart as a title.

Thus, you would write (on either side of the Atlantic):

  • What do you think of Robert Frost's “Design”? and
  • I love “Design”; however, my favorite poem was written by Emily Dickinson.

Further, punctuation around quoted speech or phrases depends on how it fits into the rest of your text. If a quoted word or phrase fits into the flow of your sentence without a break or pause, then a comma may not be necessary:

  • The phrase “lovely, dark and deep” begins to suggest ominous overtones.

Following a form of to say, however, you'll almost always need a comma:

  • My father always said, “Be careful what you wish for.”

If the quoted speech follows an independent clause yet could be part of the same sentence, use a colon to set off the quoted language:

  • My mother's favorite quote was from Shakespeare: “This above all, to thine own self be true.”

When an attribution of speech comes in the middle of quoted language, set it apart as you would any parenthetical element:

  • “I don't care,” she said, “what you think about it.”
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Be careful, though, to begin a new sentence after the attribution if sense calls for it:

  • “I don't care,” she said. “What do you think?”

Convention normally insists that a new paragraph begins with each change of speaker:

    “I don't care what you think anymore,” she said, jauntily tossing back her hair and looking askance at Edward.
    “What do you mean?” he replied.
    “What do you mean, 'What do I mean?'” Alberta sniffed. She was becoming impatient and wished that she were elsewhere.
    “You know darn well what I mean!” Edward huffed.
    “Have it your way,” Alberta added, “if that's how you feel.”

In proofreading and editing your writing, remember that quotation marks always travel in pairs! Well, almost always.

When quoted dialogue carries from one paragraph to another (and to another and another), the closing quotation mark does not appear until the quoted language finally ends (although there is a beginning quotation mark at the start of each new quoted paragraph to remind the reader that this is quoted language).

Also, in parenthetical documentation (see the Guide to Writing Research Papers), the period comes after the parenthetical citation which comes after the quotation mark” (Darling 553).

In reporting “silent speech”—noting that language is “said,” but internally and not spoken out loud—writers are on their own. Writers can put quotation marks around it or not:

  • Oh, what a beautiful morning, Curly said to himself.
  • “Oh, what a beautiful morning!” Curly said to himself.

Punctuating with Quotation Marks

With the possible exception of the Oxford/Harvard/serial comma, very few usage issues elicit responses as passionate as the topic of punctuating with quotation marks.

American vs. British Conventions

If I were in charge of writing the rules about the use of quotation marks, American style books would revise their conventions to mirror those of the British.  That is, we would use single quotation marks where we now use doubles and doubles where we now use singles.

We would also, then, put periods and commas outside quotation marks instead of inside.

But, sadly, I’m not in charge. At least for now, we here in the U.S. are stuck with our double quotation marks and our counter-intuitive conventions about punctuating with them.

With apologies to those of you living outside the U.S., this article focuses on the American style of using primarily double quotation marks and singles only when we have a quotation within a quotation.

How Much Do You Already Know?

Each of these sentences contains an error (according to American usage conventions) involving punctuation near closing quotation marks:

  1. The suspect told the arresting officer, “I was nowhere near the crime”.
  2. “Walk to the corner”, she explained to the child, “and turn left”.
  3. John said, “I have just finished reading Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’.”
  4. The woman screamed to her son, “Stop pulling the dog’s tail”!
  5. What did you do when Paul said, “You can pay for dinner tonight?”


Quotation marks

Though not necessarily logical, the American rules for multiple punctuation with quotation marks are firmly established. (See here for a brief explanation of the British style.)

Commas and periods that are part of the overall sentence go inside the quotation marks, even though they aren’t part of the original quotation.


“The best investments today,” according to Smith, “are commodities and emerging-market stocks.”


“The best investments today”, according to Smith, “are commodities and emerging-market stocks”.

Unless they are part of the original quotation, all marks other than commas or periods are placed outside the quotation marks.


She provides a thorough list of problems in her most recent article, “Misery in Paradise”; she doesn’t provide a solution.


She provides a thorough list of problems in her most recent article, “Misery in Paradise;” she doesn’t provide a solution.


Wasn’t it Dickens who wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”?


Wasn’t it Dickens who wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times?”

For more on the proper use of multiple punctuation at the end of a sentence, see here.

Short quotations can generally be run in to the main text using quotation marks.


In his novel White Noise, Don DeLillo neatly summarizes the materialist philosophy: “It’s all this activity in the brain and you don’t know what’s you as a person and what’s some neuron that just happens to fire or just happens to misfire.”

Longer quotations should be set off from the main text, and are referred to as block quotations. Because the quoted material is set off from the main text, it is not necessary to use quotation marks.

Style varies, but at a minimum a block quotation should have a bigger left-hand margin than the main text.

In contrast to the main text, a block quotation might also have a bigger right-hand margin, be in a smaller or otherwise different font, or have reduced line spacing.


In Walden, Henry David Thoreau makes the case for following one’s dreams:

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.

How do you determine if your quotation is short (allowing it to be incorporated into the main text) or long (requiring a block quotation)? It depends.

For academic writing, the MLA Handbook requires block quotations whenever the quoted material exceeds four lines, while the American Psychological Association (APA) requires block quotations for anything exceeding forty words.

The Chicago Manual of Style suggests 100 words or more as a general rule, but offers many factors other than length to be considered.

The comma is the mark most frequently used to introduce quoted material.


The flight attendant asked, “May I see your boarding pass?”

Buddha says, “Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely.”


A colon should be used when the text introducing the quoted material could stand as a sentence on its own. It is also the mark most commonly used to introduce a block quotation.


In Food Rules, Michael Pollan summarizes his extensive writing about food with seven words of advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”


A period can be used to introduce a block quotation when the introductory text stands on its own as a complete sentence. In such cases, a colon is also proper⁠—and sometimes preferable.

No punctuation

When the quoted material flows directly from your introductory text, no punctuation should be used before the quotation. A very short quotation may also be introduced without punctuation. The unpunctuated lead-in is most commonly used with run-in quotations, but it is also appropriate for introducing block quotations that flow directly from the introductory text.


  • In her closing statement, the prosecutor spoke forcefully of the defendant’s “callous disregard for human life.”
  • Though marshaling little evidence, the authors claim that “over half of British prisoners come from single-parent households.”
  • We tried to persuade him, but he said “No way.”
  • The phrase “be that as it may” appears far too often in this manuscript.

When a run-in quotation contains quotation marks within the quoted material itself, use single quotation marks in their place. When the material being quoted contains a quotation within a quotation (i.e., something in single quotation marks), use double quotation marks.


The author’s final argument is less convincing: “When Brown writes of ‘interpreting the matter through a “structuralist” lens,’ he opens himself to the same criticism he made earlier in his own paper.”

Quotation marks can be used when referring to a specific word or letter. (Some writers instead use italics for this purpose, as I have in this guide.)


In the previous sentence, “letter” was properly spelled with two “t”s.

As an alternative to parentheses, quotation marks can be used to enclose a translation. In this case, it is necessary to set the translation off with commas.


His knowledge of Portuguese is limited to obrigado, “thank you,” and adeus, “goodbye.”

Less commonly, single quotation marks are used in place of parentheses, in which case the translation is not set off with commas. Also, any punctuation otherwise required by the structure of the sentence is placed outside the single quotation marks.

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His knowledge of Portuguese is limited to obrigado ‘thank you’ and adeus ‘goodbye’.

Scare quotes (also known as sneer quotes) are used to cast doubt on a word or phrase, or to emphasize that the word or phrase is being used as a euphemism.


He rarely spoke of the “incident” that caused him to leave his previous employer.

The think tank’s “analysis” of the issue left much to be desired.

When inserted in the middle of a person’s actual name, a nickname should appear in quotation marks.


Henry M. “Hank” Paulson Jr.

Greg “The Shark” Norman

In informal writing, feet and inches are sometimes expressed as, for example, 5′ 10″ (read: five feet and ten inches). Technically, the mark designating feet is a prime; the mark designating inches is a double prime. These marks are available in most word processors, though many people simply use single and double quotation marks: 5’ 10”.

Periods and commas are placed outside the prime and double prime marks.

Quotation Marks

The rules set forth in this section are customary in the United States. Great Britain and other countries in the Commonwealth of Nations are governed by quite different conventions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Rule 4 in this section, a rule that has the advantage of being far simpler than Britain's and the disadvantage of being far less logical.

Rule 1. Use double quotation marks to set off a direct (word-for-word) quotation.

Correct: “I hope you will be here,” he said. Incorrect: He said that he “hoped I would be there.” (The quotation marks are incorrect because hoped I would be there does not state the speaker's exact words.)

Rule 2a. Always capitalize the first word in a complete quotation, even midsentence.

Example: Lamarr said, “The case is far from over, and we will win.”

Rule 2b. Do not capitalize quoted material that continues a sentence.

Example: Lamarr said that the case was “far from over” and that “we will win.”

Rule 3a. Use commas to introduce or interrupt direct quotations.

  • Examples: He said, “I don't care.”
  • “Why,” I asked, “don't you care?”
  • This rule is optional with one-word quotations.
  • Example: He said “Stop.”

Rule 3b. If the quotation comes before he said, she wrote, they reported, Dana insisted, or a similar attribution, end the quoted material with a comma, even if it is only one word.

  1. Examples: “I don't care,” he said.
  2. “Stop,” he said.

Rule 3c. If a quotation functions as a subject or object in a sentence, it might not need a comma.

  • Examples: Is “I don't care” all you can say to me?
  • Saying “Stop the car” was a mistake.

Rule 4. Periods and commas ALWAYS go inside quotation marks.

Examples: The sign said, “Walk.” Then it said, “Don't Walk,” then, “Walk,” all within thirty seconds.

He yelled, “Hurry up.”

Rule 5a. The placement of question marks with quotation marks follows logic. If a question is within the quoted material, a question mark should be placed inside the quotation marks.

Examples: She asked, “Will you still be my friend?” The question Will you still be my friend? is part of the quotation.

Do you agree with the saying, “All's fair in love and war”? The question Do you agree with the saying? is outside the quotation.

Rule 5b. If a quoted question ends in midsentence, the question mark replaces a comma.

Example: “Will you still be my friend?” she asked.

Rule 6. Quotation marks are used for components, such as chapter titles in a book, individual episodes of a TV series, songs from a Broadway show or a music album, titles of articles or essays in print or online, and shorter works such as short stories and poems.

It is customary in American publishing to put the title of an entire composition in italics. Put the title of a short work—one that is or could be part of a larger undertaking—in quotation marks.

A “composition” is a creative, journalistic, or scholarly enterprise that is whole, complex, a thing unto itself. This includes books, movies, plays, TV shows, newspapers, magazines, websites, music albums, operas, musical theater, paintings, sculptures, and other works of art.

Example: Richard Burton performed the song “Camelot” in the 1960 Broadway musical Camelot.

Although the word is the same, “Camelot” the song takes quotation marks because it's part of a larger work—namely, a full-length show called Camelot.

Rule 7. Use single quotation marks for quotations within quotations.

Example: Dan said: “In a town outside Brisbane, I saw 'Tourists go home' written on a wall. But then someone told me, 'Pay it no mind, lad.' “

Note that the period goes inside both the single and double quotation marks. Also note that, as a courtesy, there is visible space between adjacent single and double quotation marks.

Rule 8a. Quotation marks are often used with technical terms, terms used in an unusual way, or other expressions that vary from standard usage.

Examples: It's an oil-extraction method known as “fracking.” He did some “experimenting” in his college days.

I had a visit from my “friend” the tax man.

Rule 8b.

APA Style 6th Edition Blog: Punctuating Around Quotation Marks

Dear APA,

I’m quoting from a couple of different sources in my APA Style paper, and I can’t figure out what to do with all the quotation marks and periods and commas. Do I put the period inside or outside the quotation marks? What about question marks and quotation marks? I’ve been told so many different things over the years that the answers have just blurred together. Please help!

—Quizzical in Queens

Dear Quizzical,

We’re not surprised that you have been told different ways to punctuate over the years, because there do indeed exist different practices in the world. On the upside, if you are writing an APA Style paper, we have some nice, straightforward solutions for you.

To begin, let’s take a brief look at the two punctuation systems you’ve probably encountered, which are called American style (or North American Style) and British style.

Here is a quick chart of the differences:

Style issue American Style British Style
To enclose a quotation, use… Double quotation marks Single quotation marks
To enclose a quotation within a quotation, use… Single quotation marks Double quotation marks
Place periods and commas… Inside quotation marks Outside quotation marks
Place other punctuation (colons, semi-colons, question marks, etc.)… Outside quotation marks* Outside quotation marks*

*Place other punctuation inside quotation marks when that punctuation is part of what is being quoted, such as a quoted question.

As you might guess from our name, APA Style uses American style punctuation (see p. 92 of the 6th ed. Publication Manual), as do several other major style guides (such as AP, Chicago, and MLA). The table below elaborates, with examples for each punctuation mark.

Punctuation mark In relation to closing quotation mark, place it… Example Notes
Period Inside Participants who kept dream diaries described themselves as “introspective” and “thoughtful.”
Comma Inside Many dream images were characterized as “raw,” “powerful,” and “evocative.”
Parentheses Outside Barris (2010) argued that “dreams express and work with the logic of gaining a sense of and a relation to ourselves, our lives, or our sense of reality as a whole” (p. 4). See more examples of how to cite direct quotations here.
Semi-colon Outside At the beginning of the study, participants described their dream recall rate as “low to moderate”; at the end, they described it as “moderate to high.”
Colon Outside Participants stated they were “excited to begin”: We controlled for participants' expectations in our study.
Question mark or exclamation point (part of quoted material) Inside The Dream Questionnaire items included “How often do you remember your dreams?” and “What do you most often dream about?” We found intriguing results. When a quotation ending in a question mark or exclamation point ends a sentence, no extra period is needed.
Question mark or exclamation point (not part of quoted material) Outside How will this study impact participants who stated at the outset, “I never remember my dreams”? We hypothesized their dream recall would increase.
Quotation within a quotation + period or comma Inside Some participants were skeptical about the process: “I don’t put any stock in these ‘dream diaries.’” When multiple quotation marks are used for quotations within quotations, keep the quotation marks together (put periods and commas inside both; put semi-colons, colons, etc., outside both).

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