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Grammar Checkup: Using Quotation Marks in the American Punctuation System

English is a funny language, as so many of us have proven in our writing. And it changes from country to country: Punctuation rules, spelling, and usage are all different depending on where we live and which version of English we (choose to) follow.

I am an American, so I (mostly) follow our punctuation system, including how to handle quotation marks. Does our system make sense? No, not when we’re using quotation marks with commas and periods, and especially not when quoting a single word at the end of a sentence.

But. The American rules are what they are, and I think it’s important to know — just in case. (I have quoted several words in the examples purely to show how to use the quotation marks. The words don’t always have to be quoted.)

Rule #1: Always place periods and commas inside / in front of / before the final quotation mark(s), even if you’re only quoting the last word(s) of a sentence.

“I made the phone call,” replied Linda.

Victor called Jack a “geek.”

Rule #2: Always place colons and semicolons outside / after / behind the final quotation mark (s).

These are my “comfort foods”: ice cream and chocolate.

I think with my “gut”; Jean uses her head.

Rule #3: Place question marks or exclamation points inside or outside, depending on how the quoted material was said. If the quoted words were said with special emphasis, place the ? or ! inside / before the final quotation mark(s). If they were not, place the ? or ! outside / after.

Was it you who cried “foul”?

Was it you who cried “foul?”

“You’re terrific!” cried Martin.

Rule #4: Always place single quotation marks within doubles. Do not use singles alone. And if you’re quoting a word at the end of a quote, leave a space between the final single quote mark and the double – as shown below.

Carly said, “Fred is a true ‘nerd.’ ”

So for my friends and colleagues who use a different system, at least now you know some of the differences in using quotation marks.

Susan Rooks
Susan Rookshttps://grammargoddess.com/
With 25 years’ experience as an international speaker and workshop leader, Susan Rooks is uniquely positioned to help people master the communication skills they need to succeed. In 1995, Susan formed Grammar Goddess Communication to help business professionals enhance their communication skills. She creates and leads three-hour “Brush Up on Your Skills” workshops in three main areas: American grammar, business writing, and interpersonal skills. And recently she created and began leading introductory workshops to help business pros maximize their LinkedIn experience, offering it to Chambers of Commerce free of charge. As a copyeditor (and editor of nonfiction only), Susan has worked on projects ranging from blogs to award-winning children’s books to best-selling business books to corporate annual reports (with clients from half a dozen countries), ensuring that all material is professionally presented and free from grammatical errors. From the beginning, Susan’s only goal was to help everyone look and sound as smart as they are.

4 COMMENTS

    • I don’t know the answer to that, Rebecca, but thanks for your comment and appreciation! We do have a few odd punctuation rules that go against what much of the rest of the English-speaking world considers correct … but they’re our rules, so we’re stuck with them.

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