Quotation Marks and Punctuation
Several readers have asked about punctuation at the end of a sentence that contains quotation marks.
The first question asks me to choose which of the following is correctly punctuated:
“I’m awesome. You should probably follow me!”.
“I’m awesome. You should probably follow me”.
My answer: Neither.
The exclamation mark at the end of the first statement is sufficient end punctuation. No period is needed outside the quotation marks: “I’m awesome. You should probably follow me!”
The period at the end of the second example belongs inside the quotation marks: “I’m awesome. You should probably follow me.”
The second question asks if this sentence is correctly punctuated:
“Do you think she has the nerve to tell him, ‘You are a terrible man.’?”
Like people, punctuation marks jostle about in a certain pecking order. A question mark muscles out a period: “Do you think she has the nerve to tell him, ‘You are a terrible man’?”
The third question asks if two question marks are needed when a quotation is couched within a question. For example: The professor asked the class, “Did you enjoy the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”?
Answer: No. One question mark is sufficient: The professor asked the class, “Did you enjoy the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Question marks and exclamation marks drive out periods and commas. Compare:
He said, “I hate you.” (period at the end of the sentence I hate you.)
Can you believe he said, “I hate you”? (period eclipsed by question mark)
“George Clooney is gorgeous,” she said. (comma after statement and before attribution)
“Do you think George Clooney is gorgeous?” she asked. (question mark eclipses comma)
There is, however, a situation in which a comma is called for after a question mark, even though the resulting visual effect is ugly. You would use both the question mark and a comma if you were listing several plays by Edward Albee: The Zoo Story, The Death of Bessie Smith, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Tiny Alice, and Seascape.
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