Period Goes Inside Quotation Marks

By Maeve Maddox

Derrick Grant writes:

I’ve always been perplexed on whether the period goes inside the quotations or outside, when the sentence is not quoting someone. For example: They didn’t describe it as a budget cut, they called it “streamlining services”.

Does the period go inside the quote or outside? I’ve seen it, in professional publications, done both ways, leading me to think that both are correct; however, I have the “ALWAYS put a period INSIDE the quotes” statement burned into my head from my old English high school teacher. If both methods are correct, I’m inclined to think putting it outside the quotes, in the above example, looks more appropriate.

Thoughts?

The two most popular U.S. authorities agree with Derrick’s high school English teacher.

AP Style book:

Periods always go inside quotation marks. –p 361

Chicago Manual of Style:

Periods and commas precede closing quotation marks, whether double or single. This is a traditional style, in use well before the first edition of this manual (1906) –Section 6:8

The CMS goes on to describe exceptions for textual studies and British usage, but for practical purposes, writers of American English can go with the “ALWAYS put a period INSIDE the quotes” mantra.

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41 Responses to “Period Goes Inside Quotation Marks”

  • Bamboo Forest – PunIntended

    This is interesting and has been on my mind for quite some time.

    I was thinking, if you’re quoting a sentence that has a period, the period goes inside the quotation marks.

    But if you’re quoting just a single word, then the quotation marks go inside the period. Why would the quotes be outside the period when in this case the period has nothing to do with it?

    AHHHH! Grammar 🙂

  • Ryan

    This is one of those rules I have never understood. Not that the logic is hard–just follow the rule!–but the implimentation is useless. Is not punctuation just as much part of the text as the letters?

    As one who dabbles in the computer programming world, this rule is even more frustrating, as programmers like code to be exact. If I quote a piece of code, I put _only_ the code inside the quotes, never the ending punctuation. Some proper people still put the punctuation in. That’s a terrible way to be explicit. The message is lost, communication is muddled.

    …not that I expect AP and Chicago to change because of programmers, but maybe for the sake of clarity?

  • Alek Davis

    This is one rule that bothers me as an ESL speaker and technical writer. My problem is logical: the quoted text indicates the quote and in most cases period or comma (or other punctuation character) is not part of the quotation. For example, consider this phrase [in brackets]: [The label must contain the following text “Enter login ID.”] So how would the reader know whether to include a period at the end of the label? How should it be punctuated to indicate that period must be included? And how to indicate that period must be omitted?

  • Karla Marsh

    Even more confusing, periods and commas always, always, always go inside quotation marks (unless doing so would confuse the reader, such as in a procedure when telling users what to type), but exclamation points, question marks, and semicolons go outside. (All the opposite of British English.) It’s actually quite logical when you think about the purpose of the marks.

  • alon

    I would like to know the rules for other types of punctuation marks as well, ?, !, ;, and what about single quotes within double quotes, and vise versa.

  • Per M. Bergvall

    I am not bothered by this at all. If the period is an essential part of the quotation, to show that it ended right there, put it inside the quotes. If the quotation is part of your argument, but not a grammatically complete element, then complete the quotation without punctuation. Then regard the entire quotation as ‘item’, and punctuate your sentence accordingly.

  • Bargainph

    I also want to learn if this ‘rule’ is also accepted with ?, ! and ;

    I never had the opportunity to search the correct answer for this until I read this blog post.

  • Anup

    British English puts the period after the quotes. I think the same applies to comma.

  • Rosemary

    It’s cultural. In America, inside the quote marks; in Britain, outside. See Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

  • Vic

    This has always been a pet peeve. Not sure why. In Journalism school I learned that periods always go inside quotes, so when I see them outside of the quotes it looks very awkward. Regarding the British, what do they know about the English language anyway?

  • Sarah Turner

    Hi there

    Eeeeeek! In British English the full stop should go outside of the quote marks if the full stop does not form part of the orginal quote.

    So “once more unto the breach dear friends once more”. Outside!

  • Ryan

    Amen, Sarah.

  • Derrick Grant

    Thanks for addressing my question!

  • Peter

    Where do you come up with this idea that it’s a difference between British and American English? British usage has always been to put full stops inside as well (question marks, etc., are not treated differently; they also go inside). Wikipedia makes the same claim, but I’ve just thumbed through a couple of dozen books printed in the UK, and not a single one uses the supposedly “British” way. In short: bullsh*t!

  • Ryan

    That probably wasn’t necessary, Peter.

  • GirlieGeek3152

    The period and “”

    He was always saying “go home”.
    He said, “Go Home.”

    That is how I usually rationalize the period placement.
    When quoting, it goes outside to finish the sentence. In dialogue, I put it inside of the quotes.

  • Karla

    GirlieGeek3152–Each of those examples is a quote. As pointed out in the blog, Chicago Manual of Style and AP both state that the period goes inside the quotation marks. If you don’t follow those style guides, then don’t do it.

  • Chris

    Like alon and Bargainph above, I would also like to know how other punctuation marks such as the question mark and the exclamation mark are affected by this rule.

    For example:

    Did you say “I am hungry?” / Did you say “I am hungry”?

    The quoter is using the question mark, and the question mark does not form part of the quote. The original article seems to suggest that the question mark should appear WITHIN the quotation marks, despite NOT being part of the quote, but this could be misleading.

  • Karla

    Exclamation points, question marks, and semicolons go outside the quotation marks, unless it is part of the quotation.

    You can get online subscriptions now to the more popular style guides, if you don’t want to look it up in a book.

  • Vic

    For all of you who went off on my comment about the British not knowing English, let me say that, without a doubt, I was JOKING. I just thought it is quite obvious.

  • Alek Davis

    @Vic: It was funny. 🙂

  • Chris

    Sorry to be a pain, but what about if you’re asking a question and the quotation also includes a question, for example:

    Did you say “why are you hungry?”?

    Would this be correct or should this be written differently?

  • Vic

    Thanks, Alek. I’m going back to my cave now to write. I should never have come out.

  • Peter

    The original article seems to suggest that the question mark should appear WITHIN the quotation marks, despite NOT being part of the quote

    Which would be correct. At least, that’s the traditional way—these things are really typesetter conventions; they’re not meant to be logical, they’re meant to look better in print.

    Did you say “why are you hungry?”?

    Would this be correct or should this be written differently?

    Did you say “I am hungry?” (quoting a statement)

    and

    Did you say “why are you hungry?” (quoting a question)

    are both correct.

  • Dave

    I am a little late to this discussion–which appears to have ended–but I thought I would add a comment from a UK perspective.

    I was taught that I should not place anything within quotation marks that was not part of the quote itself, including punctuation necessary to my sentence construction. A quoted phrase was to be treated as a unmodifiable unit, including the quotation marks, for the purposes of punctuation.

    That was in the Seventies. Whether such a rule is still applied, or even taught, I do not know.

    Out of curiosity, I checked a couple of books written by British writers within the last few years and both place punctuation outside quoted phrases. That is hardly meaningful as a guide to general usage, of course. They just happen to be within easy reach.

    The difference between placing commas and periods inside or outside a closing quotation mark does not seem great; I doubt I even notice it in reading and would have no concern using either form in writing. A question or exclamation mark though… That would make me pause.

    Dave

  • Precise Edit

    A little more fuel for the fire:

    In response to our recent article “The Brits Got It Right: Punctuation with Quotations”, a visitor posted this comment in reference to British English conventions:

    “The punctuation goes inside if being quoted and outside if not. Simple, really.”

    I agree with this statement. The British English rules for puntuations with quotations have always seemed to make more sense, and be more consistent, than the American English rules.

  • Stephen Thorn

    Let’s stir the hornets up a bit more, ya’ll.
    I had a similar quandry in the past and consulted the Perdue University’s online English lab about it. My question concerned using punctuation inside quotes as an Internet search term. I wrote to them:
    “When specifying an Internet link, are punctuation marks placed inside the quotation marks, assuming the punctuation mark is NOT part of that link? For example: In the search engine, type “Energy”.

    My concern is that including the period as part of the quote will cause the hyperlink not to function correctly.”

    Their response: “If you are simply suggesting a search term as in the example you give, you
    have done it correctly, with the word in quotes and the punctuation outside.
    If you are citing a website or including a hyperlink, you can set it off
    with these symbols .”

    Hope this helps clear up a little confusion on this subject.

  • Peter Perkins

    It seems to me that common sense dictates: If one is quoting a complete sentence, then the period should go inside the quote. If only select words or partial phrases are quoted, the period should be outside the quotes.

  • Jazz

    Does the “Period goes inside quotation marks” apply to period/any punctuation mark goes inside parentheses?

  • George Craig

    Alek,
    When you want the period included how about using “Enter login ID.”? When you do not want the period included, use “Enter login ID”.

    Dave,
    You have simplified the matter by eliminating the confusion. Or, perhaps you have eliminated the confusion by simplifying the matter.

  • Karla

    George: Nope. First of all, I never say Enter in my procedures. (ENTER is a key on the keyboard.) And I don’t use quotes for user interaction. I use bold text. So I would write,
    1. In the Username box, provide your login ID.
    Or,
    1. At the command prompt, type:
    xyz.etc
    In this case, I put the user input on a separate line with no punctuation and in Courier New font.

    That’s the wonder of word processors–we’re no longer at the mercy of punctuation to make text stand apart.

  • Yuyo

    Which one is correct using the comma?

    Example:
    “Bla blah …” he said.
    or
    “Bla blah …”, he said.
    or
    “Bla blah …,” he said

  • Destin

    People!!! Stop over thinking such an elementary answer. It’s a grammar rule without some underlying, hidden, and/or mythological answer encapsulated in between (pun intended). Some countries have their own definition and rules for grammar and/or language variations (thinking more “outside the box”? – Pun Intended Again). My “proverbial depiction!” Let loose…Mellow out to the rhythmic sounds of nature’s grammatic “RULES!”

  • Effector Dhanushanth

    its simple dear readers. if its just a word, it comes inside (the quotes).
    exempli gratia: the fox jumped the “wall”.

    if its the whole sentence it comes outside (the quotes).
    exempli gratia: “the fox jumped the wall.”

    I found it confusing as well for a minute, a while ago, before i hit big brother. Well i had practiced the abovementioned method all my luife not knowing if it was correct at all. But it makes sense to me. I know for certain that it IS in fact correct. beat that!

    for those who call me “jerk”, exempli gratia=e.g. (duh)
    and
    for some extra explanation, notice the “quotes” above?
    i mean not the actual punctuation, but the 2 words in brackets, in the successive examples. well if u observe well, they appear within the period yea? treat the quotation in the same way.. adios!

  • Jordan

    @Ryan – a few years later, but yeah…another programmer annoyed by this… I often look it up, to double check, even though I know it’s right. I explicitly remember it from high school English (the MLA Handbook). Maybe the issue is that my mind refuses to commit the transaction to my long term memory database because it’s throwing a type of DoesNotMakeSense exception.

    🙂

  • Funslinger

    Sorry. I don’t care what any grammar manual says. I am not placing a period inside the quotes for a single word or phrase ending a non-quoted sentence. It looks stupid. The period which ends the sentence is not part of the quoted material.

  • Funslinger

    @Alek Davis
    Your example shows why the rule is stupid.

    To show that the period should be included, one should write: [The label must contain the following text “Enter login ID.”.]

    To show that the period should be omitted, one should write: [The label must contain the following text “Enter login ID”.]

  • Tammy

    I’m a Technical Writer, and when my work is proofed I often get chastised for putting the period or comma outside quotation marks. I agree with the programmer who sees their code ‘dirtied’ by including the punctuation within the quotation marks. I write installation documents, and quite often I tell the user what will display on their screen or what to input. If I write …is displayed alternating with a ‘2.’ That is very different than saying …is displayed alternating with a ‘2’. For clarity, I leave the punctuation at the end.

  • SilenceTheSheep

    @Effector….good for you for knowing what e.g. stands for…however, if you’re going to act like a jerk on a discussion board that is dedicated to grammatically correct punctuation rules, how about making sure your punctuation is correct? its does not equal it’s…perhaps you’ve learned that by now, since you’ve had two years to reflect on your post…cheers!

  • Bob Marshall

    I see that this thread is over three years old but apparently still alive. My understanding about the rule is that it is purely historical. Back in the days of printing presses and other devices that used raised metal, the period and the comma keys were the most fragile and prone to breakage. It was dicey to use the construct quote-period-space or quote-comma-space. To protect the keys, commas and periods were thus placed inside the quotes. Other punctuation marks such as question mark, exclamation point and semicolon are not as prone to damage, so they were not placed inside the quotes. This practice has continued in the United States, but elsewhere logic prevails. I have always had trouble with that practice, since I was a math major and a computer programmer and the practice seemed illogical to me.

  • Rick Carufel

    I don’t agree. That rule only applies in dialogue The period goes outside the quotes in such sentences like this.
    When you should use “to”, “two”, or “too”.

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