Do you hesitate, wonder, and then re-write your sentences in order to avoid putting the comma, period, question mark, colon, or semicolon in the wrong spot with relation to a quotation?
Wonder no more. Thanks to a suggestion from Kathy Streib, I did the research and found simple answers. I also learned that the reason why it seems so confusing is that Americans do it one way while the British do it another.
Since we're in America, let's not worry about what the British are doing.
Here are our guidelines:
Semicolons, colons, and dashes always go outside the closing quotation mark:
"I follow a very strict diet" – she said as she gobbled down a juicy burger.
Commas and periods (almost) always go inside the closing quotation mark.
I had a terrible time learning to spell the word "bureaucracy."
"I have to be home by midnight," the girl told her boyfriend.
The only exception is when you're writing something technical and the reader would become confused or "get it wrong" if you put the punctuation inside the quote marks. Thus, in a sentence such as the following, the period goes outside:
To make an em dash in HTML, type “—”.
To receive a discount when purchasing just one set of prospecting letters from Copy by Marte, use the coupon code "ask".
Question marks and exclamation points are a judgement call.
To determine where to place the question mark or exclamation point you first have to look at the meaning of the sentence and how the quote fits into that meaning.
Is the question or the exclamation part of the quote, or not? Are you quoting what someone said, or are you using quotes to designate a title, a pet name, etc.?
- Jerry asked "Can I have a cookie before dinner?"
- Mom replied "No, you may NOT have a cookie before dinner!"
- Do you remember the song "Tennessee Waltz"?
Some differences depend upon who is speaking. For instance:
- The waitress finally lost her patience and declared "I am not your sweetie!"
- Or (now the waitress is speaking rather than being quoted) I am not your "sweetie"!
For a more in-depth explanation and more examples, visit Grammar Girl.
Grammar graphic courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Questioning man courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net