Punctuation with Quotation Marks (American Style)

Most of the time, I come up with my own ideas about articles, but sometimes I get lucky and a connection asks a great question that turns into an article.

Recently, Donna Shattuck asked about using punctuation with quotation marks or parentheses, but because this article is already long enough, I’ll cover the use of punctuation with parentheses next week. Thanks so much, Donna!

Fair warning, folks: In terms of quotation marks, our American system differs in many respects from most (maybe all) of other countries’ grammar rules.

1) Commas and periods always go inside / before final quotation marks, even if we’re quoting just the last word(s) of the sentence. It looks odd to many, and I agree. But it’s still the American rule.

Ex: Donna called Susan a “geek.”

Ex: Donna said, “Susan is a geek.”

2) Colons and semicolons always go outside / after final quotation marks.

Ex: Ice cream is Sara’s favorite “comfort food”; Liz prefers hot cocoa.

Ex: Ann thinks with her “gut”: Tim uses his head.

3) Question marks and exclamation points can go in either place, depending on how the quoted material was said. If it was said with questioning or excited emphasis, the ! or the ? goes inside the final quote marks. If not, it goes outside.

And we do not normally double-up the final mark.

Ex: Was it Fran who yelled “foul?” (strong emphasis on how the word was said)

Ex: Was it Fran who yelled “foul!” (strong emphasis on how the word was said)

Ex: Was it Fran who yelled “foul”? (no emphasis on how the word was said)

4) Always place single quotation marks within doubles. Do not use singles alone. And try not to do what you see in the example below too often; even though it’s grammatically correct, it also looks odd. Figure out a way to rewrite the sentence, maybe like the one I wrote.

Ex: Carol said, “Fred is a true ‘nerd.’ ”

Ex: Carol said, “Fred is a true ‘nerd,’ isn’t he?”

Yes, the space after the single mark (which is just an apostrophe doing double duty) is part of the rule.

So, I hope this helps, and for more, you can always visit my website — www.grammargoddess.com — and type a word or two into the search box.