Periods and Commas Are Ultimate Insiders

www.RuthlessEditor.comWhen you start writing, whether an email, a blog, a report or the next chapter of your book, you don’t want to interrupt your flow by stopping to ponder punctuation. It makes sense to get out your words and thoughts first, postponing punctuation decisions until later.

As you begin to fine-tune your copy, you might get stuck trying to remember what goes inside and what goes outside quotation marks. These tips can help.

In American English, commas and periods always go inside quotation marks, even when quotation marks enclose a single word.

She repeated three times, “I was disappointed by his behavior.”

“Don’t keep reminding me of that fateful night,” she pleaded.

I refuse to sit through another “debate.”

The art critic described Susan’s painting as “exquisite,” and I agree.

When you have a quotation within a quotation, use a set of single quotation marks for that element, and place commas and periods inside the combined marks.

She shared with me, “I just told Eric, ‘Your work is substandard,'” so I avoided further contact with him that day.

She said, “Let’s explore that famous saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin, ‘Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.'”

I was telling you the truth when I said, “She told me harshly, ‘You’re doing it all wrong.'”

(Note that there is no space between the single and double quotation marks. With some software, you can nudge the marks apart just a bit.)

Exclamation points and question marks can go inside or outside quotation marks, depending on whether they are part of the quoted material.

“Look out! There’s a car coming!” his father shrieked.

Don’t you dare expect me to sit through another campaign “debate”!

“Whey didn’t you wash the windows?” Ava asked Chad.

Did I hear Chad tell Ava, “I washed the windows, but it rained the next day”?

Did she call him a “bloviating bag of wind”?

Who thinks “Do you plan to get married?” is a valid interview question?

(Note the absence of a comma after thinks, because the quoted material serves as an object and is not attributed to anyone.)

Colons and semicolons go outside quotation marks unless they are part of the quoted material.

She emphasized the highlights of her “extreme adventure”: hiking to the floor of the Grand Canyon, climbing out the same day, and being the oldest member in her group.

I heard her tell the babysitter, “Remember: She’s allergic to chocolate, so don’t give her M&M’S.”

He might call it a “debate”; I call it “talking points.”

Mia made her position clear: “I have a test tomorrow; I can’t go out tonight.”

American English and British English have different practices for punctuation placement. Check here for major differences in American versus British usage.

This blog responds to a punctuation question from a blog subscriber. Do you have a question about word or punctuation use? Let me know!

And consider sharing the information with a friend, a colleague or on Facebook. Almost everyone can use a grammar refresher now and then.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)