Grammar Tip – Quotation Marks

I have noticed that some business writers have still not updated themselves with regard to the rules for North American quotation marks. The rule in Canada and the U.S. is that all periods and commas are placed inside quotation marks. (Changing the placement of periods and commas according to what is being quoted is the British style.)


Please mark the report “Confidential.” (North American style)

Please mark the report “Confidential”. (British style)

The article says it’s “the best ice cream in the world.” (North American style)

My latest article, “Communicating With Customers,” will be placed on the website next week.

“Smart,” “professional,” and “articulate” are words that should be added to the job description.??On the other hand, semicolons are always placed outside quotation marks.

Example (North American style)

He said, “I will pay the bill”; this really surprised us.

With question marks and exclamation points, place the punctuation inside the closing quotation mark, when it applies to the quoted material only; place it outside the closing quotation mark when it applies to the whole sentence.

Examples (The question/exclamation applies to quoted material only.)

He asked, “May I work from home on Friday?”? If you win the lottery, will you enter her office and yell “I quit!” Examples (The question/exclamation applies to the whole sentence.)

Did you hear him say, “You did a great job”?

Don’t anyone say “I’m bored”!

I know this information may shake some readers, but these are the North American rules.

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.


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.)