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How should I punctuate around quotes?
When should end punctuation go inside quotes?

Or is it region specific? I was always taught that when ending a quotation, that punctuation remains inside of the quote.

I think he said, "we should go to the store." Are you sure he said, "we should go to the store?"

As opposed to:

I think he said, "we should go to the store". Are you sure he said, "we should go to the store"?

This is just an arbitrary example off of the top of my head, and it's hard for me to come up with an example for the second usage because it looks completely wrong to me.

I actually got into a small argument with my girlfriend earlier this year because she uses something similar to the second example, and said that's how she was taught (which is why I ask if it's region-specific.)

Anyway, is there a correct usage for ending a quotation with punctuation?

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Related: How should I punctuate around quotes? –  Kosmonaut Nov 24 '10 at 13:49
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marked as duplicate by MετάEd, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, Kris, Daniel, Zairja Nov 7 '12 at 17:28

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5 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

In American English, commas and periods go inside the quotation marks. Semi-colons, question marks and exclamation marks go inside the quotation marks only if they're part of the quotation. E.g.,

"What time is it?" he asked.

Did he really say, "I don't care"?

So your example should be the following:

I think he said, "we should go to the store." Are you sure he said, "we should go to the store"?

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The convention is universal for direct quotations; British English places the punctuation inside the quotation marks just as other forms of English. (Parentheses work in a similar fashion.) There are however variations in British publishing practice when not making a direct quote, but the conventions are not entirely straightforward.

Something I find interesting is the marked tendency of programmers to place punctuation outside quotations and parentheses due to a familiarity with the programming convention of "nesting" punctuation.

I hope you were able to reconcile your differences...

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Haha, that was just an anecdote -- nothing actually happened. It was more of a debate than an argument. –  Corey Nov 24 '10 at 16:11
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As a programmer guilty of the above I'll just say that the reason is simply that it is logical. You must end an item within it's parent; if the quotation begins inside the sentence, then then it must end before the sentence does. –  sje397 Dec 14 '10 at 11:33
    
Oh, I agree it's logical - I still struggle against the urge, believe me! –  PyroTyger Dec 14 '10 at 16:10
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It's not just nesting, it's (perhaps even more so) the feeling that a quote should include only what was in the original. The canonical example goes like Type "password," then press Enter. Are you or are you not supposed to type the comma? Lots of engineers (from various fields) will probably say yes, since the comma is inside the quotes, but the intended meaning may very well be to not type the comma, as it is meant as punctuation. –  Michael Kjörling Nov 3 '11 at 15:37
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My UK-centric interpretation would be:

I think he said, "we should go to the store". Are you sure he said, "we should go to the store"?

The first sentence is a statement, correctly terminated with a period; the second sentence is a question, thus the last character should be a question mark.

Also, consider a statement that quotes a question:

I think he said, "Should we go to the store?" Are you sure he said, "Should we go to the store"?

My understanding is that, in the first sentence, the question mark within the quotation is effectively used to 'terminate' the sentence. in the second, because the wrapper statement is a question itself, its question mark is used to terminate the sentence. Unlike other cultural differences, I think this approach is common to both [British] English and American English.

However, personally (being a 'logical' person), I would offer an alternative to the first sentence in this latest example:

I think he said, "Should we go to the store?". Are you sure he said, "Should we go to the store"?

Quite simply, I really don't like terminating a sentence with a quotation mark, so I add an 'incorrect' period after the first sentence. Yes, it means I'll go to grammar hell, but my time on earth will be that bit more comfortable! ;)

See: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/marks/quotation.htm

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To the best of my knowledge, it is American custom to always put the final punctuation before a closing quotation mark, while British custom allows for the second usage that you illustrated above.

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It varies (at least between the UK and the US), but in your example the question mark should go outside the quotes, otherwise it alters the meaning of the sentence.

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