By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated, November 26, 2013)
Quotation Marks with Other Punctuation
There is a lot of confusion surrounding the use of other punctuation with quotation marks. Here are a few simple rules.
When writing for a North American audience, put periods and commas inside quotation marks:
“My gerbil’s name is Samuel Beckingworth the Fourth.”
“My gerbil has an illustrious pedigree,” said Wilmer.
In the UK, the situation is more complex. Single quotation marks are typically used, and punctuation may be placed inside or outside quotation marks depending on the situation. See the Oxford Guide to Style for more information.
When combining quotation marks with question marks, placement depends on whether the quotation is a question on its own or just part of the question:
“Why is that horse wearing a tiara?” (Here, the question mark goes inside the closing quotation marks because the entire quotation is a question.)
Did Mel just say, “that horse is wearing a tiara”? (Here, the entire sentence is a question, and the quotation is just part of it, so the question mark goes outside the closing quotation marks).
The same rules apply for exclamation marks:
“Get back here and bring that wombat with you!” she shouted
He said, “I have a doomsday device and I’m not afraid to use it,” then squirted maple syrup all over his teacher!
The rule also applies to asides in parentheses:
“That movie was boring (and so was my date),” said Harry.
According to Harry, the movie was boring (and he said his date was “even more boring”).
Quotations within Quotations
When doubling up on quotations, use single quotation marks for the quotation within a quotation when writing for a North American audience (in the UK, single quotation marks are used for regular quotations, so the situation is reversed and doubles are used for quotations within quotations):
“I don’t know what’s wrong with John,” said Marla. “He just shouted, ‘I’m leaving and taking all the spoons with me,’ then stormed out, his pockets bristling with spoons.“
Scare Quotes (Also Known as Sneer Quotes)
Sometimes quotation marks are used to indicate that the words are someone else’s and that the author not only doesn’t agree with them but is actually sneering at their use:
Lydia’s “art” consisted of three stacks of pork chops covered in glitter.
Quotation Marks with Footnotes
When adding footnotes to quotations, put the number after all the punctuation, including the quotation marks:
Recent research indicates that “Rudwick’s clown car hypothesis is not valid.”1
Quotation Marks Around Titles
Use quotation marks for articles, essays, poems, short stories, works of art and sculpture, TV series, and song titles:
His painting, “Irritated Cow Descending a Staircase,” was purchased for $6 million.
Although some publications use different rules, most use italics for the titles of books, magazines, newspapers, movies, plays, musicals, operas, and ballets:
Roger’s newest book, The Mighty Hamsters of Madagascar, was published in 2013.
Classical music symphonies, sonatas, concertos, and others can just be capitalized with no quotation marks or special type:
Vera’s newest piece, Symphony Mediocrita, was played for an audience of several.
Many people use quotation marks for emphasis; this is wrong. If you want to emphasize a word, use italics, bold type, or a different colour.
Quotation Marks for Talking About Words
Quotation marks can also be used when talking about a particular word or phrase. Single quotation marks are typically used for this purpose, though doubles are sometimes used in North America.
The word ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ has 12 syllables.
- American Psychological Association. (2011). “Punctuating Around Quotation Marks.” Blog.APAStyle.org.
- Brians, P. (n.d.). Common Errors in English Language.
- Capital Community College Foundation. (n.d.). “Quotation Marks” and “Commas.” Grammar.ccc.commnet.edu.
- Fogarty, M. (2010). Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips.
- O’Conner, P. T. (1996). Woe Is I, the Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
- OWL at Purdue. (2013). “How to Use Quotation Marks” and “Extended Rules for Using Commas.” The Writing Lab & the OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. OWL.English.Purdue.edu.
- Strauss, J. (2013). Grammarbook.com.
- The Guardian. (2013). “‘The British style’? ‘The American way?’ They are not so different.” TheGuardian.com.
- Trask, L. (1997). Guide to Punctuation. University of Sussex.