Punctuation in or outside quotation (speech) marks
 
This page covers whether periods (full stops), commas and other punctuation marks should be place before or after a speech mark.

Unfortunately, the rules governing whether to place punctuation inside or outside speech marks are not straightforward. The quick summary is:
  • Semicolons and colons – outside
  • Exclamation marks and question marks – according to logic
  • Commas and periods/full stops – inside in the US, outside in the UK.
 

Punctuation Inside or Outside Quotations?

Look at the first comma and the final period/full stop in the example below. Should they be inside or outside the quotation marks?

  • "Bindle", to todayís youth, means "a small pack of drug powder".
To get us out the starting blocks on this one, Iím going to say there are two conventions for determining whether punctuation should be inside or outside speech marks: the US convention and the UK convention. But, if you were to research this, youíd quickly spot that both the Brits and Americans are pretty poor at sticking to their own conventions. Youíd notice instantly that many UK fiction writers and journalists follow the so-called US conventions, and youíd find US writers following the so-called UK convention. With that understood, letís move forward in ignorant bliss, calling them the US and UK conventions. (If youíre a business writer, this categorization works fine. If youíre not, pick the convention that will annoy your readers the least and be consistent.)

Punctuation UK Convention US Convention
. and , Place . and , outside (unless it appears in the original).

  • "Bindle", to todayís youth, means "a small pack of drug powder".
  • "Conquest", said Jefferson, "is not in our principles."
  • (Note: The . appears in the original.)
Place . and , inside.

  • "Bindle," to todayís youth, means "a small pack of drug powder."
  • "Conquest, " said Jefferson, "is not in our principles."

Obviously, donít place a comma inside if it introduces the quotation (like the one after Jefferson).
! and ? Place ! and ? inside or outside according to logic.

  • Did she really say, "I love you"?
  • ("I love you" is not a question, but the whole sentence is.)
  • I heard him yell, "Do you love me?"
  • (The whole sentence is not a question, but the quotation is a question.)
    The second example is not a question, but it ends in a question mark. For neatness, it is acceptable to use just one end mark. Under US convention, you should only use one end mark. Under the UK convention, if youíre a real logic freak, you can use two end marks (if you must).
  • I heard him yell, "Do you love me?". ()
: and ; Place : and ; outside (unless it appears in the original).

  • On the street, there are three meanings for the word "monkey": fifty pounds, a person dependent on drugs, and a kilogram of drugs.
?, ! and . Donít double up with end marks. But, if you must, you can.

  • Did she really ask, "Do you love me?"?
  • (unwieldy but acceptable)
    (Two question marks? The sentence is a question, and the quotation is a question.)
  • I heard him yell, "Do you love me?".
  • (unwieldy but acceptable)
Donít double up with end marks.

  • Did she really ask, "Do you love me?"?
  • (too unwieldy for US tastes)
  • Did she really ask, "Do you love me?"
More on ?, ! and . Donít end a quotation with . if it doesnít end the whole sentence.

  • "Get Out!" she yelled.
  • "Why me?" she asked.
  • "Iíll go." she said.
  • "Iíll go", she said. ()
  • "Iíll go," she said. ()

See also:

Colon or comma before quotation (speech) marks?
Three dots (ellipsis) in quotation (speech) marks
Quotation (speech) marks for ships, plays, books, etc.
Double or single quotation (speech) marks?
Quotation (speech) marks meaning alleged or so-called