Punctuation Inside or Outside Quotation Marks?

by Craig Shrives

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Punctuation Inside or Outside Quotations?

In the US, commas and periods always go inside the quotation marks. In the UK, the tendency is to place them outside, unless they appear in the original quotation, in which case they go inside.

This table summarizes how the main punctuation marks are used with quotations:
PunctuationRuleExample
Commas and Periods (Full Stops)inside in the US, outside in the UK"I know," she said. ()
"I know", she said. ()
"I know it's true," she said. ()
(The comma shows that the quotation had its own end punctuation, which was a period.)
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"?

The US and UK Rules for Commas and Periods (Full Stops) with Quotations

Should the highlighted comma and period (full stop) 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." ()
  • (In the US, the comma and the period are placed inside the quotation.)
Here is the same example in the UK convention.
  • "Bindle", to today’s youth, means "a small pack of drug powder". ()
  • (In the UK, the comma and the period are placed outside the quotation.)
This, however, is not the whole story. In the UK, commas and periods are also placed inside if they appear in the original quotation. Let's examine this quotation by US President Thomas Jefferson: "Conquest is not in our principles."
  • "Conquest", said Thomas Jefferson, "is not in our principles." ()
  • (The period inside the final quotation mark is correct because it appears in the original. The comma after "Conquest" is correctly placed outside because it does not appear in the original.)
This point causes great confusion when writing dialogue using the UK convention because each line of dialogue usually has its own end punctuation, typically a period. Let's examine this line of dialogue by someone called John: "I like apples."
  • "I like apples," said John. ()
  • (The yellow comma is correct because the quotation contained its own end punctuation (a period). Clearly, we can't use a period here because that would confuse the reader. So, a comma has replaced the period and has been correctly placed inside the quotation to recognize that the quotation had its own end punctuation.)
So, in the UK, commas and periods go outside, unless they appear in the original quotation, in which case they go inside. To avoid all this confusion, many British teachers now instruct their students to place commas and periods inside quotation marks. This is a fair ruling given they tend to be instructing how to write dialogue. This is a workaround though. It is not the rule.

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. ()

In Summary

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?

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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

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