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Quotation Marks


Use quotation marks to set off quotations and dialogue.


Example (quotation):

In his famous inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy implored, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for your country.”




Example (dialog):

“Where are you going tonight?” asked Greg. “Beth and I are going to the library to get some research done,” Susan replied. “Then we’re heading to the mall to do some shopping.”



When using quotation marks,

  1. commas and periods go inside the quotation marks.
  2. semicolons and colons go outside the quotation marks.
  3. question marks and exclamation points go outside the quotation marks.

Rule 1:


Commas and periods should be placed inside quotation marks.





“I don’t understand what you’re trying to say,” Glen said. “You need to speak up.”

Don’t use a comma and quotation marks for indirect quotes



Example (direct quote):


He said, “I don’t have time to take the car for an oil change today.”



Example (indirect quote):


He said that he didn’t have time to take the car for an oil change today.






√ Check your work


Place commas and periods inside quotation marks. To determine if a quote is a direct or indirect quote, ask yourself if the quote comes directly from the speaker and if the quote contains the exact words of the speaker. If so, place quotation marks around the quote. If not, there should be no comma or quotation marks.

Rule 2:


Place semicolons and colons outside quotation marks.



Example (semicolon):


My mom always used to say, “A stitch in time saves nine”; I always remember that quote when I am tempted to procrastinate.



Example (colon):


Patrick Henry made a strong statement when he said, “Give me liberty or give me death”: he felt that it would be better to die than to live in a country without freedom.





√ Check your work


When you use quotation marks with a semicolon or colon, first determine whether you are using the semicolon or colon correctly. Then make sure you place the semicolon or colon outside the quotation marks.

Rule 3:


Place question marks and exclamation points outside quotation marks unless they are a part of the quotation.



Examples (question mark):


Did you hear Professor Johnston say, “You must read the first 500 pages for a quiz on Monday”?

Stunned, she implored, “Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving for good?”


In the first example, the quotation is a statement that does not require a question mark; however, the overall sentence that contains the quotation is a question. Therefore, the question mark goes outside the quotation marks. In the second example, though, the quotation is a question, so the question mark goes inside the quotation marks.



Examples (exclamation point):


I can’t believe she finally said, “I love you”!

The woman ran after the thief yelling, “Hey, come back with my purse!”


Overall, the first sentence is an exclamatory sentence, but the phrase I love you is not; therefore, the exclamation point goes outside the quotation marks. Hey, come back with my pursein the second sentence, however, is an exclamation, so the exclamation point goes inside the quotation marks.





√ Check your work


Examine all quotations in your writing. If the quotation itself is a question or exclamation, place the appropriate punctuation mark inside the quotation marks. If, however, the overall sentence is a question or exclamation but the actual quote is not, the punctuation should be placed outside the quotation marks.

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