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Grammar Tip – Punctuation With Quotation Marks

Suzanne’s question: “I often struggle with the use of quotation marks in conjunction with periods, question marks, and exclamation marks. I was educated in Scotland, and we sometimes put them outside.”

BizWritingTip response: Yes, the North American English rule for using periods with quotation marks is now different from the British English rule.

North American rules say that when it comes to commas and periods, always place them inside the quotation marks. And, yes, this may be different from what you learned in school.

Examples

Time magazine says, “It’s the best ice cream in the world.” (Period is placed inside the quotation mark.)
The report was clearly stamped “Draft.” (Period is placed inside the quotation mark.)
His latest article, “Benefit Packages for Senior Workers,” will appear in next month’s issue of HR Reporter. (Comma is placed inside the quotation mark.)

However, when it comes to question marks and exclamation marks, it depends on whether the question or exclamation relates to the whole sentence or just the quoted piece. (This is also the British rule.)

Examples (correct)

Did she say, “I need the information by Friday”?  (The whole sentence is a question. Therefore, the question mark is placed outside.)
She asked, “Do you need the information by Friday?”  (Only the quote is a question. Therefore, the question mark is placed inside the quotation mark.)

His first comment was, “When will you ever learn!”(The exclamation relates only to the quoted material.)

Stop saying “No problem”! (The exclamation relates to the whole sentence.)