Punctuation with Quotation Marks


Punctuation in and around Quotations

Punctuating quoted text may seem complex, but remembering a few simple rules will help clear up the process.

1. Punctuation of the quoted text follows normal conventions:

“Why, if the air is colorless, does the sky look blue? It doesn’t seem right.”

2. When a quote precedes the speaker reference, it is followed by a comma and a space, unless full-stop punctuation (a period, exclamation mark or question mark) is called for. This applies to interrupted quotations as well as those that aren’t interrupted:

“Why is the sky blue?” she asked.
“Why,” she asked, “does the sky appear blue?”
“Why is the sky blue?” she asked. “Isn’t the air colorless?”
“Good question!” the professor answered.

3. When a quote follows the speaker reference, the reference is followed by a comma and a space, unless full-stop punctuation is called for. This also applies to both interrupted and non-interrupted quotes:

Carrie asked the professor, “Why is the sky blue?”
“Why, then,” Carrie asked, “does the sky appear blue?”
“Why is the sky blue?” she asked. “Isn’t the air colorless?”

4. Ending punctuation may be the least simple of the rules: When a sentence ends with a quotation or contains only the quotation, if the ending punctuation relevant to the quotation is the same as required for the sentence, the punctuation is normally placed inside the ending quote:

“Why is the sky blue?” she asked. “Isn’t the air colorless?”
The professor started his response with, “Good question, Carrie.”

Ending question marks and exclamation points are usually placed within or outside of quotation marks, according to whether they belong with the quoted text or the containing sentence:

Didn’t Carrie ask the professor, “Is the sky really blue”?
No, her exact words were, “Why is the sky blue?”

5. Colons are almost always placed outside quotation marks.

As with all grammatical rules, those outlined above are subject to vernacular style and different rules of style as well as forms of English (British, American, or UK). In standard British English, for instance, different rules for ending punctuation apply when dealing with fictional and non-fictional writing. In the simplest terms, however, the use of punctuation should help control the meter of the writing and help indicate the meaning of the quotation or sentence containing the quotation.

3 Responses to Punctuation with Quotation Marks

  1. Orayelle says:

    Wow, extremely helpful! Thank you!

  2. Ethan says:

    Section 2 states that preceding quotes are followed by a comma. I can’t see any comma in the examples – is this a mistake?

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