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How to Use Quotation Marks

On the mysteries of combining quotation marks with other punctuation marks.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
December 26, 2013
Episode #395

Page 2 of 2

Exceptions

People often ask if there are exceptions to the American rule that periods and commas go inside the closing quotation mark. What if the thing in quotation marks is a title? What if it’s a word being defined? Nope. Those aren’t exceptions. The only exception I know of in American English is that sometimes in technical writing, when you’re designating something that a user should type into a text box, it’s important for readers to know whether the punctuation should be included in what they type. In such instances, it’s OK to break the traditional rules and put periods and commas outside the quotation marks if it makes your meaning clearer:

To make an em dash in HTML, type “—”.

Although it is acceptable to break the rules, it is usually better to use a method other than quotation marks to highlight your instructions. Bold face, italics, and colored fonts all work for highlighting text.

To make an em dash in HTML, type —.

To make an em dash in HTML, type —.

To make an em dash in HTML, type —.

Often, I find that the best method is to put the instructions on a separate line.

To make an em dash in HTML, type the following:

—

Double Quotation Marks with Single Quotation Marks

Another British-American difference is how we use single quotation marks and double quotation marks. The British use single quotation marks far more often than Americans. In America, we use double quotation marks in nearly all cases, and we use single quotation marks if we need to place a quotation within another quotation:

The defendant testified as follows: “I heard Sam say, ‘Hide the files from Delia.’ ”

When the single quotation mark and double quotation mark fall next to each other, as in the above example, you can improve readability by putting a space between the two marks. Professional print typesetters use something called a “thin space,” which is thinner than a standard space. 

HTML Codes  
Thin space  
Non-Breaking Space  

Summary

In summary, these are the ways you combine quotation marks with other punctuation marks:

  • Semicolons, colons, and dashes always go outside the closing quotation mark.
  • Periods and commas always go inside the closing quotation mark (in American English).
  • Question marks and exclamation points require you to think about the sentence a little to determine where they go. 

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