JS Tip 191: From the Writing Workshops: Periods Closing Quotation Marks

This tip expands a tip from three years ago.

Three principles:

One: Periods and commas go inside closing quotation marks.

Always. Always. Always. No exceptions (in the United States.)

Right: She said, “We filed the data.”

Wrong: She said, “We filed the data”.

This has been standard in the US for over 150 years. Printers decided it looked cleaner on the page. (British usage puts the periods and commas inside or outside, depending on the situation.)

Two: Colons and semi-colons go outside closing quotation marks.

Right: She said “We filed the data”; He asked “Where?”

Right: She said “We filed the data”: costs, expenses, and fees.

(You’ll rarely use these. That’s why the sentences look and sound goofy.)

Three: Question marks and exclamation points go inside or outside depending on the situation.

If the quotation is a question, the question mark goes inside the closing quotation marks. If the complete statement is a question, the question mark goes outside the closing quotation marks.

Right: She asked, “Did they find the data?”

Right: Did she say, “We filed the data”?

(If both are questions, put the question mark inside the closing quotation marks:

Right: Did she ask, “Did they find the data?”

Howzat? Help? Let us know your questions. Seriously. We love this stuff.