The Mighty Quotation Marks

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Do commas and periods go on the inside of the quotation marks or on the outside? It’s a question I continuously ask myself when I write dialogue. It baffles me why I can’t remember such a rule.

The Mighty Quotation Marks

Quotation Marks

This set of punctuation marks are useful in highlighting the beginning and end of a quoted passage or to indicate that a word or phrase is being used in a special way. They’re known informally as quotes and as inverted commas in the UK.

You’ll see single quotation marks around single characters and when you’re quoting within a quotation while double quotation marks are used around words or phrases.

  • Elizabeth looked to her left and said to John, “I saw Julie with Mark the other day, she smiled at me while looking at him and whispered, ‘We’re just friends.’ “
  • “Please go away!” Joseph screamed.

In British English, use single quotes for initial quotations and double quotes for quotations within the initial one.

  • Her new book is called ‘That’s How it Is’.
  • ‘Do you know,’ Lynn said, ‘which “shack” it is’?

Commas and Periods

Always go inside them.

  • “It’s over there,” she pointed.
  • He’s such a “pied piper.”

However, in British English, unquoted periods and commas go outside them.

  • She’s part of the ‘Ladies of Westchester’, I found out.
  • Richard’s a ‘skilled liar’.

Question Marks and Exclamation Points

It depends on the context of the sentence. If the punctuation mark refers to the majority of the sentence, then it goes outside of it. Therefore, if it’s part of the quote, it goes inside of it.

  • Sarah shouted at Elizabeth, “Get out of the car!”
  • What did you say when Jill said, “I don’t mind your left-overs”?

This is where American English and British English agree. You rely on keeping the meaning of the quote intact and not making it difficult to read.

  • Why do they call them ‘heathens’?
  • I looked up and yelled, ‘Come back here!’

Semicolons, Colons, and Dashes

Always go outside them.

  • Liza fell and said, “I’m okay,”—then blood gushed from her right leg.
  • Jeremy loved the movie “A Night to Remember”; he watched it over 50 times.
  • She read a quote from her favorite book “Like a Butterfly”: “When the time comes, you’ll know.”

Again, the same applies to British English except with single quotations.


On the inside. You’ll see them on shorter length works like poems, articles, and songs. However, you italicize longer works like books, movies, or albums.

  • Alexandria wrote three books titled “How to Get There,” “It’s Done,” and “Everything’s Fine.”
  • Her book is called “Never Go There.”

Whereas for British English, in academia, they use single quotation marks for short poems, TV and radio programs, book chapters, and periodical articles. Otherwise, you’ll see italicized titles.

  • Sue Anne lectured on ‘Illusions: A Collection of Poems’.
  • John listened to the ‘The Larry Hour’.

Within a Headline

Use single quotation marks.

  • ‘Everything Will Be Okay’ the Teacher Assured
  • Rescued Climber: ‘I’m so fortunate’


Ultimately, the rules depend on who you’re writing for and the Style Guide that you’re using like the Associated Press Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style, the MLA Handbook, the Elements of Style, or the Oxford Style Manual.

Quotation Marks - Infographic