Punctuation and quotations: Inside or outside?

I remember several years ago in high school being taught that punctuation should always be put inside quotation marks, whether it’s an entire sentence or a single one-word phrase. I’ve always stuck with this rule whenever I write. However, throughout the years, I watched for this in books and articles, just to see how the professionals do it. However, there seems to be no hard-and-fast rule in English for this.

I know this to be correct: “I’m going to the store,” she said.

But is this correct: The tea I usually drink is “Earl Grey.” I’ve seen many writers who would put the period outside the quotation marks.

Grammartarians: can you tell me once and for all if punctuation always belongs inside quotations?

  • Adam

I am not a grammarian, but from wha tI’ve understood, it’s a matter of choice.
It’s not so much a matter of grammar as of style. The ‘always put punctuation within the quote’ faction is stronger in the US than in the UK, but both have adherents on either side of the pond.

Unless you’re writing for a publication with a well-defined set of style guidelines, I suggest you pick a style and stick to it.
Personally I prefer the ‘adjust punctuation to suite the context’ school of thought, but that’s just a personal preference.

I’ve had to do a little study on this recently, and what I’ve been led to believe is that you leave the punctuation (periods and commas) inside the quote. Colons and semicolons go outside. I don’t know of any exceptions to this.

However, I am no grammarian and I’m sure there’s some flexibility in the rules, depending on the situation. However, I just had a document copyedited professionally and the editor (a very exacting fellow) never corrected me when I followed this rule. For whatever that’s worth.

The following are American conventions, according to Hodges’ Harbrace Handbook, 14th edition:

  • Commas and periods go inside quotation marks;
  • Semicolons and colons go outside quotation marks;
  • Question marks, exclamation points and dashes go outside quotation marks unless they’re part of the quote.

Yes, the American convention is to always put end commas and periods inside of the quotation marks. I prefer it to the British style of using common sense and context simply because it involves less thinking and it’s easier to teach.

Semicolons and colons go outside, but those are rare situations (and we are thankful). Question marks and exclamation points are under the same rules in both the American and British styles. Put the question mark inside of the quotation mark if the question is asked within the quotation mark; put the question mark outside of the quotation mark if the question is asked outside of the quotation mark.

He was having fun until she asked, “Did you steal that base?”

Did he really say, “I am taking my ball and going home”?

Quiz on the American style here.

And, for what it’s worth, there’s no compelling grammatical reason for putting the comma inside the quotes. [for instance: I think it’s called a “Segway,” but I’m not sure.] It became convention purely for visual esthetics in printed material.

Many modern types, used to computer programming styles, tend to want to be strictly logical and keep all punctuation outside of the quotes, as is accepted for question marks (unless of course, the punctuation is part of the quoted material).
*[I think it’s called a “Segway”, but I’m not sure.*]

So go with whatever you want, subject to style of wherever you’re putting it. (for instance AP style, the default for newspapers keeps commas and periods within the quotes)

If you are describing comand-line arguments, the punctuation can be significant.
“x” and “x.” may do very different things.
Typically commands are done in a different font (sans-serif, fixed-width), and the sentance could probably be re-written to avoid confusioin.

To blah-blah type “x.”
to blah-blah, type “x” and stuff happens.


At my school the real science teachers (ie, teachers whole teach sciences first and foremost, not english or shop teachers doubling as a science teacher) prefer the punctuation outside the quotes, where as the english teachers want it inside.