Problems with Quotation Marks

One of the biggest problems with quotation marks is knowing whether another type of punctuation, such as a period or comma, goes inside or outside the quotation marks. Here is a summary of rules that will help you avoid errors:

  • Put periods and commas inside quotation marks, whether or not they are part of the quotation.

Her little sister said, “I want to go swimming.”

“The pool opens tomorrow,” he said.

  • Put question marks, exclamation marks, and dashes inside quotation marks if they are part of the quotation.

His sister asked, “Is it hot enough to go swimming today?”

He screamed, “I don't want to go swimming!”

The last words we heard were, “I want to go—”

  • Put question marks, exclamation marks, and dashes outside quotation marks if they are not part of the quotation.
  • Colons and semicolons always go outside quotation marks.
On Monday the instructor said, “I'm grading your essays”; a week later, we still hadn't received our papers back.
The new tenant said, “I'll return the contract”: a detailed rental agreement and explanation of the necessary damage deposit.

When using punctuation marks with quotation marks, remember to reserve quotation marks for direct quotations. Don't use quotation marks around the title of your paper. Don't use them to signal—and somehow justify—the use of clichés or slang expressions. Don't use them to indicate that you are being clever or funny. In fact, don't use them to call attention to your tone at all.