Punctuation Inside or Outside Quotation Marks?

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Punctuation Inside or Outside Quotations?

Should punctuation go inside or outside quotation marks? Unfortunately, the rules governing whether to place punctuation inside or outside quotation marks are not straightforward and they depend on whether you are following US or UK writing conventions. Here is a summary of the more-detailed table below:
PunctuationRuleExample
Commas and Periods (Full Stops)inside in the US, outside in the UK"I know," she said. ()
"I know", she said. ()
Semicolons and ColonsoutsideThere are two meanings for "381": an activist group and I love you.
Exclamation Marks and Question Marksinside or outside according to logicShe asked, "Do you love me?"
Did she say, "I love you"?
This infographic below summarizes the rules for placing punctuation inside or outside a quotation:

punctuation (e.g., commas, periods, full stops) inside or outside quotation marks?

The US and UK Conventions for Commas and Periods (Full Stops) Are Different

Look at the first comma and the final period (full stop) in the example below. Should they be inside or outside the quotation marks? Well, it depends what writing convention you're following. This example is written in the US writing convention.
  • "Bindle," to today’s youth, means "a small pack of drug powder." ()
Here is the same example in the UK convention.
  • "Bindle", to today’s youth, means "a small pack of drug powder". ()
Beware. We've said there are two conventions: the US convention and the UK convention. However, if you were to test this in the US or the UK, you would quickly spot that not all Americans and Brits adhere to their own conventions. For example, you would have no trouble finding UK fiction writers and journalists following the so-called US conventions, and you'd also find a few US writers following the so-called UK convention.

Here's some good advice: Identify your local convention (either in a work policy or a decent newspaper) and then be consistent.

A More Detailed Explanation of Punctuation Inside or Outside Quotations

Punctuation UK Convention US Convention
. and , Place . and , outside (unless it appears in the original).
  • "Bindle", to today’s 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 today's youth, means "a small pack of drug powder."
  • "Conquest," said Jefferson, "is not in our principles."
Obviously, don’t 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 you're 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 . Don't 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)
Don't 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 . Don't end a quotation with . if it doesn't end the whole sentence.
  • "Get out!" she yelled.
  • "Why me?" she asked.
  • "I'll go." she said.
  • "I'll go", she said. ()
  • "I'll go," she said. ()
Ready for the Test?
Here is a confirmatory test for this lesson.

This test can also be:
  • Edited (i.e., you can delete questions and play with the order of the questions).
  • Printed to create a handout.
  • Sent electronically to friends or students.

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