Does a Period Go Inside or Outside the Quotation Mark? What about a Comma?

Question & AnswerThe Question

Authors often ask me if the period should go inside or outside the closing quotation mark. This post will explain where to put the period and other punctuation marks relative to closing punctuation marks. Here is an example of a sentence where this question comes up:

A. The scholar argued that “the theory is invalid.”
B. The scholar argued that “the theory is invalid”.

So which is correct, Sentence A or Sentence B? Should the period go inside or outside the closing quotation mark?

The Basic Guideline

In US English, punctuation marks (periods, commas, etc.) tend to go inside the closing quotation marks, and in British English, punctuation marks tend to go outside. So in the example above, Sentence A would be correct in US English, and Sentence B would be partially correct in British English (we would also have to change the double quotation marks to single quotation marks, as is standard in British English).

Both styles have exceptions to the general trend. In this document I will give you a summary of the US system, as that is my native language. For more on British English, see the New Oxford Style Manual. For the US system, see the Chicago Manual of Style, or use the quick reference sheet below.

Placing Punctuation with Closing Quotation Marks

Below is a quick summary of how to place punctuation marks with closing quotation marks in US English. You can also download this quick reference sheet to keep handy while writing.

Always Inside

These punctuation marks always go inside the closing quotation mark:

  • Periods
  • Commas

Examples:

Smith explained, “The analysis shows that X is greater than Y.”
Participant 1 stated that “the teaching method needs improving,” and Participant 2 agreed.

Sometimes Inside, Sometimes Outside

These  punctuation marks go inside the closing quotation mark if they are part of the quoted material; otherwise, place them outside the closing quotation mark:

  • Question marks
  • Exclamation marks
  • Dashes

Examples:

The participant asked, “How much time do we have to complete the survey?”
The question is, should we still use the textbook if it is not “good”?

Always Outside

These punctuation marks always go outside the closing quotation mark:

  • Colons
  • Semicolons

Example:

Smith argued that the theory is “sound”; indeed, many scholars agree.

Exceptions

Sometimes, in very long quotes that you will be block formatting in your paper, the quoted material might have internal quoted matter. As a matter of practice, I try to avoid indirect citations, but it does come up from time to time. In this case, if the original quoted matter has used another system (e.g., the British system, or perhaps it is just a very old source and the practices were different then), you will probably want to preserve the original punctuation usage in just this case.  

Some editorial styles allow for minor changes to punctuation, whereas others prefer to preserve the original in almost all cases (CMOS is pretty flexible on permissible changes to quoted matter, but other styles, such as MLA, are strict).

Here is an example of when this might happen. Below is an excerpt from Jacob Baal-Teshuva’s book, Marc Chagall. Because of the length, we would probably block indent this in most editorial styles, and we should preserve the original punctuation, unless confusion would result, which is not the case:

Among Chagall’s neighbours were Amadeo Modigliani . . . Fernand Leger, Henri Laurens, Alexander Archipeko, Moische Kogan, and Chiam Soutine. . . . By and by, Ossip Zadkine, Jacques Lipchitz, Jean Metzinger, Pincus Kremegne, Michel Kikoine, the poet Blaise Cendrars, and the writer and critic Andre Salmon moved into the La Ruche. Most of the painters working in the colony came to be known as members of the “School of Paris”, although they had absolutely nothing in common. (Baal-Teshuva 41)

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Rocky Citro

Hi, my name is Rocky, and I am a technical academic editor with over a decade experience editing for professors and graduate students in prestigious universities. I have also taught writing at the graduate and undergraduate level and have several years' TEFL teaching experience.

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