PunctuationPunctuation? Quotations? Inside? Outside? I had a friend message me recently, almost in a panic, after he saw a question mark outside quotation marks. Is that wrong? Is it right? Well what about periods, commas, colons, etc.? Today we’ll discuss the basic rules of punctuation in relation to quotation marks, and hopefully we can clear up some of those nagging questions.

The basics

Quotation marks are used to indicate someone else’s words. That person can be speaking or it can be a piece of writing that you’re referencing. A quotation mark looks like this: “. Unlike an apostrophe (‘), quotations always come in pairs and go around the other persons words. For example, my husband said, “Merlin is not a cat.” See how the quotations opened the thing he said and ended it? Exactly. Also, make sure you note, when you quote someone in the middle of your sentence, you will capitalize the quote if it’s a complete sentence. If it’s not a complete sentence, you don’t capitalize it. Let’s compare these two ideas:

My husband said, “The magician Merlin is not a cat.”
My husband claimed that Merlin, the magician in King Arthur, was “not a cat.”

Notice that the first quote is capitalized, and the second is not. The first is a complete sentence, and the second is not. Get it? Rock on.

Commas and Periods

Commas and periods go inside quotation marks. Pretty much always. The only exception to this rule is when you are making a parenthetical statement (or citation) after the quote. For example:

Shakespeare coined the infamous quote, “If music be the food of love, play on.”
Shakespeare coined the infamous quote, “If music be the food of love, play on” (Shakespeare, 17).

Semi-colons and colons

This rule is simple enough. Semi-colons and colons always go outside of quotation marks. If I were to use a colon in a title, for example, I would say:

“The Triple-Turned Whore”: Bipolarity and Manic Depression in Shakespeare’s Cleopatra

Indeed, that is a title I used. The quote came directly from Antony and Cleopatra.

Question marks

So question marks can be a little trickier. It depends on whether the quote includes a question or not. If the quote includes a question, the question mark goes inside the quote. If it isn’t, it goes outside. Let’s take a look:

He asked, “Are you all right?”
Did he ask “Are you all right”?

Notice in the second example, the whole sentence is a question–not just the quotation.

Final thoughts

I hope this clears things up for you, I know it helped me! It’s a bit to remember, but I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it. Good luck!