Placement of quotation marks in relation to other punctuation at the end of a quote can be a bit confusing. It seems like common sense that if a punctuation mark is part of the quote, it should be included within the quotation marks. If it is not part of the quote, it should be outside the quotation marks. However, as you will soon discover (if you didn’t already know), common sense is not always the rule in grammar and punctuation.
Quotation Marks with Commas and Periods
The rule for commas and periods does not always make sense to many writers, but it is, unfortunately, the rule. Commas and periods should precede the closing quotation marks, whether they are part of the quote or not.
When the commas belong within the quote, one expects to include it in the quotation marks.
“Wait,” Alyssa said, “I’m not ready to leave yet.”
Since the pause seems natural after “wait,” it makes sense to include the comma in the quotation marks as well as the period since the full sentence follow is still Alyssa speaking.
They studied the Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall.”
Obviously, the period is not part of the poem’s title, but it’s punctuated this way nonetheless.
Quotation Marks with Question Marks, Colons, Semicolons, and Exclamation Points
Punctuation is not completely devoid of logic. Unlike commas and periods, question marks, colons, semicolons, and exclamation points do not always appear within quotation marks. In fact, these punctuation marks consistently follow the quotation mark unless it is part of the quotation.
Linda asked, “Where are you going?”
Are you familiar with Robert Frost’s poem “Departmental”?
Alternative System of Quotation Marks with Other Punctuation
This inconsistency in punctuation rules is not universal in English grammar. In fact, it seems to be only an American style. The British style as published in The Oxford Guide to Style is used in most other English-speaking countries. According to British style, only punctuation marks that are part of the quotation should be included within the quotation marks. All other punctuation marks should follow the closing quotation marks.
While the British style may make more sense and you may prefer it in your personal writing, keep in mind that most American publications will prefer the American style, and the editors will insist you uses it. Just keep in mind when you are writing that commas and periods precede the closing quotation mark at all times, but the rest of the punctuation marks follow the “common sense” rule.