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Write the Right Word: Punctuation and Quotation Marks

Does punctuation go inside or outside of quotation marks? The answer is: It depends.

Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks. For example: “I am going to the store,” he said. Or this: “Producers say crops will be very good this year.”

  • Hyphens, colons, semicolons, question marks and exclamation points go inside the quotations marks only when they apply to the quoted material. These go outside the quotation marks if they apply to the whole sentence. For example: Who wrote “Gone With the Wind”? (outside because the whole sentence is the question) Or this: “I’ve had it with this project!” she exclaimed. (inside because just the part in quotes is what is being exclaimed) And this: The following students should report to the room marked “Musicians”: horn players, guitarists and trombonists. (outside because the colon applies to the entire first part of the sentence)

Also, if a quotation continues from one paragraph to the next, do not use a close-quote mark at the end of the first paragraph. However, do use an open-quote mark at the beginning of the second paragraph. For example:

“A lot of work goes into planning these conferences,” Johnson says. “We pull the conference committee together in March and hold weekly meetings to determine a budget, find speakers and decide what we’re serving at meals.

“However, we also try to have some fun,” he adds.

Ellen Crawford, information specialist, (701) 231-5391

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