A professional friend of mine purposely breaks punctuation rules when it comes to using quotation marks. How many people do you know break the rules? As a writer and grammar aficionado, breaking rules really bothers me. My friend confessed that he purposely puts periods outside the quotation marks because he thinks it looks better.
While some rules don’t make sense or just don’t look right, rules help us understand our language. They help us read important material. Haphazard or made-up rules can create more chaos and misunderstandings because English is already hard enough.
Using Periods Properly With Quotation Marks
Some writers forget the proper punctuation rules regarding quotation marks and rather than take time to look up the rules, they just go with what they think is correct. By not taking time to verify the right way to punctuate properly, these writers will potentially confuse and frustrate their readers. Punctuation with quotation marks can be confusing as some punctuation marks go outside the quotation marks, while others go inside the quotation marks. For a quick refresher, review the examples listed below and keep a copy near you.
Place periods and commas inside quotation marks.
- Grant asked his mom which nickname she liked best: “T.J.,” “Bob,” or “Grantus-O’Mighticas.”
- “They’re all good nicknames,” she smiled, “but I like the last one best.”
There is one exception to the rule. When you are using MLA style for parenthetical documentation, you place the period after the parenthetical citation.
- Rebecca Skoot explains in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, “In 1960, French researchers had discovered that when cells were infected with certain viruses in culture, they clumped together and sometimes fused” (141).
Place question marks or exclamation points inside quotation marks when they apply to the quoted material only.
- Cayla asked her dad, “May I have the keys to the car, please?”
- “No!” he exclaimed. “You’re only twelve and far too young to drive!”
Place question marks or exclamation points outside quotation marks when they apply to the entire sentence.
- Did you finish reading Marni’s article “Content Matters in E-mail Campaigns”?
- Do you say “a SEO” or “an SEO”?
Place colons and semicolons outside quotation marks.
- Randy reminded me “Don’t use the outside water spigot”; I hadn’t realized the broken pipe was not yet repaired.
Finally, use single quotation marks only within another quotation.
- “I just love the phrase, ‘live, laugh, love,’” her daughter said. “It’s my new motto!”