Does that Punctuation go Inside or Outside the quotes?

Services for Real Estate Pros with Marte Cliff Copywriting

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.grammar book

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 markQuestion 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.?

For example:

  • 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
Questioning man courtesy of Master isolated images /






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Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Jane Peters Since you're in the U.S. that's a good choice! 

Sep 09, 2015 09:20 AM #21
Kathy Streib
Room Service Home Staging - Delray Beach, FL
Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224


                           Thank you Marte Cliff for my Ah-ha moment. 

Sep 12, 2015 10:48 AM #22
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

And I thank YOU, Kathy Streib

Sep 12, 2015 12:53 PM #23
Wayne Martin
Wayne M Martin - Chicago, IL
Real Estate Broker - Retired

Marte, sage advice as always. Love your reminders. Enjoy your day!

Sep 12, 2015 09:30 PM #24
Ginny Gorman
RI Real Estate Services ~ 401-529-7849~ RI Waterfront Real Estate - North Kingstown, RI
Homes for Sale in North Kingstown RI and beyond

Thank you again Marte!  great tips to write by...

Sep 12, 2015 10:21 PM #25
Dorie Dillard CRS GRI ABR
Coldwell Banker United Realtors® ~ 512.750.6899 - Austin, TX
Serving Buyers & Sellers in NW Austin Real Estate

Good morning Marte Cliff ,

I'm so glad I read Kathy Streib's post this morning and discovered your post! Perfect post to be featured! Thanks for the research on this topic..I'm always scratching my head on this one and was pretty much right but now I have the facts!

Sep 12, 2015 10:24 PM #26
Roger D. Mucci
Shaken...with a Twist 216.633.2092 - Euclid, OH
Lets shake things up at your home today!

Something I wonder about all the time, but I'm sure I'll still make mistakes.

Sep 12, 2015 10:27 PM #27
Gary L. Waters Broker Associate, Bucci Realty
Bucci Realty, Inc. - Melbourne, FL
Fifteen Years Experience in Brevard County

Good lesson. I usually get these right although the use of a colon or semi-colon is something I never know about.  The easy solution, as always, write to avoid the use of either!

Sep 12, 2015 10:43 PM #28
Raymond E. Camp
Howard Hanna Real Estate Services - Ontario, NY
Licensed Real Estate Salesperson Greater Rochester

Good morning Marte,

Have bookmarked to come back to.

Maybe it will help my mistakes!

Make yourself a great day.

Sep 12, 2015 11:43 PM #29
Sharon Tara
Sharon Tara Transformations - Portsmouth, NH
New Hampshire Home Stager

Another very helpful post, Marte!  Well done!

Sep 12, 2015 11:44 PM #30
Kevin J. May
Florida Supreme Realty - Hobe Sound, FL
Serving the Treasure & Paradise Coasts of Florida

I actually had read through this on the 6th Marte. The rules and regulations take their toll but now I'm back to exclaim their complexity.  

Sep 12, 2015 11:48 PM #31
Kristin Johnston - REALTOR®
RE/MAX Realty Center - Waukesha, WI
Giving Back With Each Home Sold!

I am glad that Kathy highlighted your post this week so I did not miss it!

Sep 13, 2015 12:54 AM #32
Patricia Kennedy
RLAH Real Estate - Washington, DC
Home in the Capital

Marte, I feel vindicated!  The nuns taught us to do it your way with punctuation and quotation marks.  When I wrote my book, they tried to change it around so that everything went inside, and I remember having to go through the entire manuscript and change most of them back.  The one part of my education that worked from the nuns?  That would be grammar and punctuation!

Sep 13, 2015 01:38 AM #33
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer
Thanks Wayne - I wish you a nice day as well. Ginny - I'm glad you enjoy them. Dorie - I don't know why I wait to look things up until someone else asks. I always learn something. Roger - I expect I will too. Patricia - those nuns can be pretty exacting teachers! Gary - I think a lot of us use that easy solution. Raymond - a great day to you as well. Thanks Sharon! Kevin - Some of them ARE a bit complex. Kristin - thanks for stopping by.
Sep 13, 2015 04:20 AM #35
Praful Thakkar
LAER Realty Partners - Andover, MA
Andover, MA: Andover Luxury Homes For Sale

Marte Cliff as always, grammar girl teaches lots of things related to punctuation marks. And as always, lots of thanks.

Sep 13, 2015 01:35 PM #36
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Praful Thakkar Yes - there are quite a few grammar sites, but the Grammar Girl seems to do the best job of simplifying the subject matter. 

Sep 13, 2015 01:40 PM #37
Ryan Huggins - Thousand Oaks, CA - Thousand Oaks, CA
Residential Real Estate and Investment Properties

Thank you!  I was having this discussion with people in my office the other day.  Glad to see I got it right!  Marte Cliff , Grammar Girl is one of my favorites along with the  "The Blue Book of Grammar."  A throw-back to college days.

Sep 14, 2015 02:48 PM #38
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Thanks Ryan Huggins - We really are fortunate to have the Internet with all of its easy sources for answers to these questions. 

Sep 14, 2015 04:11 PM #39
Sarah Cole
Strategic Digital Marketing Consultant - - Tully, NY
Strategic Social Media Consultant

Interesting!  I always thought it was outside of the quotes everytime for everything.  Thanks!!

Sep 15, 2015 01:59 AM #40
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

Sarah Cole Our language is much too complicated to have one rule that works every time for everything! 

Sep 15, 2015 02:11 AM #41
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