Do periods and commas go inside or outside?
Today, as promised, we’ll talk about how to mix quotation marks with other punctuation.
Quotation Marks with Commas and Periods
One of the most common question people ask me is whether periods and commas go inside or outside a closing quotation mark, and there’s a reason everyone is confused. The rules in American English are different from the rules in British English, so if you’re regularly reading American and British publications, such as the BBC and CNN websites, you’ll regularly see it done different ways.
In America, we use a hard-and-fast rule that was supposedly designed by compositors to protect the tiny commas and periods (1, 2). We always put periods and commas inside quotation marks.
In Britain, they use rules that require the writer to determine whether the period or comma belong with the quotation or are part of the larger sentence. It appears that early champions of this logical system were H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler who wrote the classic 1906 British usage guide The King’s English (3). In it, the brothers describe the British logical system of punctuation. They note that they are in conflict with compositors, people who set type, but the Fowlers believe their system is better.
In short, my U.S.-centric memory trick is to remember that inside the U.S., periods and commas go inside quotation marks.
Squiggly said, “I hate packing for a vacation.”
“I hate packing for a vacation,” said the yellow snail.