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Question marks: inside or outside quotation marks?

From ProofreadNOW, some tips on how to properly handle quotation marks and other punctuation:

Everybody knows that quotation marks surround quotations. And that the opening quotation mark always goes right before the first word of the quotation. But many people have trouble figuring where the closing quotation mark goes.

The following are basic rules for where closing quotation marks are placed with respect to accompanying punctuation.

In America, commas and periods always (well, almost always) go inside the closing quotation mark.

— “It was fun to go water skiing on Long Lake.”
— “We skied the length of the lake,” Tallulah said.

[In British punctuation, periods and commas go inside or outside depending on “sense”, as the Oxford Guide to Style puts it. But that’s another story for another GT.]

Colons and semicolons go outside closing quotation marks.

— There are two reasons why we call her “Baby”: she is one, and in our minds it will forever be an endearing appellation.
— I love the phrase, “When in the course of human events…”; it is immediately engaging and inspiring.

Question marks and exclamation points go inside sometimes, outside other times. It depends on whether the quoted material itself is a question or an exclamation, or not. These are instances when the question is confined to the quoted material:

— “Can you swim?” asked the lifeguard.
— Amos heard the question, “Friend or foe?” and froze.

Here, the exclamation is confined to the quoted material:

— “Look out for the other boats!” he yelled as he rose up out of the water.

Here are instances when the questions are not strictly the quoted material, so the mark goes outside the closing quotation:

— Who said “Give me liberty or give me death”?
— Who wrote “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”?

And here, the exclamation is not limited to the quoted material, so it goes outside:

— Oddly enough, I just won the $200 million lottery with the numbers “1-3-5-7-9-11”!

2 comments… add one
  • Margaret December 18, 2007, 9:28 am

    How about comparing British single and double
    quotations with the American?

  • jaced.com December 18, 2007, 9:31 am

    Indeed. A good topic. Check out this post.

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