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I am writing a novel. I have doubts how should I use question marks and exclamation marks in conjunction with quotation marks.

I have written 5 separate sentences to illustrate this issue:

  1. He asked, "Why should I do this?"
  2. "Where are we going?"
  3. "Let's get out of here!"
  4. He yelled, "I want you to do this now!"
  5. "I don't want to do this!" I screamed back

In my opinion, all question and exclamation marks should be placed inside quotation marks, because I am quoting words of the character, which include question or exclamation mark. If I put question/exclamation mark after closing quotation mark, it feels weird. So I think that all sentences written above are correct as far as punctuation goes.

However, I have a friend who says this is wrong way. He says that:

  • I should put question mark outside of quotation mark ("?) if the whole sentence is a question
  • I should put question mark inside of quotation mark (?") if the question is only part of the sentence

So with my friend's rules, those sentences would read as follows:

  1. He asked, "Why should I do this?"
  2. "Where are we going"?
  3. "Let's get out of here"!
  4. He yelled, "I want you to do this now!"
  5. "I don't want to do this!" I screamed back

This seems wrong for me. This friend mentioned that this is correct way according to MLA style. He referenced MLA 3.2.11. as specific example. (I think he meant guideline number. When I searched for it online, I came to this document which has following guideline heading: "3.2.11. Periods, Question Marks, and Exclamation Points".) However, I see 2 issues with that:

  1. As far as I know MLA guidelines only concern writing research papers, not fiction works like novels
  2. Examples in 3.2.11. do not suggest, in my opinion, that his way of writing those sentences is correct, even if I wanted to apply MLA style to my novel

So my question is: which way of writing those sentences is correct way? If none is correct, what is correct way? And is there any credible source that confirms one of those versions is correct?

Side question: Should MLA style be used for works of fiction or only research/scientific papers?

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    Read some novels. They would be creditable sources. – TRomano Aug 20 '15 at 10:22
  • @TimRomano Well, I did read a lot of them and they confirm "my" version. But I am looking for other credible sources to convince my friend (or find out that I am wrong). – cnovwq Aug 20 '15 at 10:24
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    I have no idea how you have applied your friend's rules to arrive at 2 and 3. The ? and ! surely go with the phrase inside the quotation marks. You probably need to refer to something like the Chicago Manual of Style (parts of which are available online). – Andrew Leach Aug 20 '15 at 10:29
  • He referenced 3.2.11 as specific example What is 3.2.11? Can you quote it in your question? – J.R. Aug 20 '15 at 10:37
  • @J.R. He said "See MLA 3.2.11". I think he meant guideline number. When I searched for it online, I came to this document which has following guideline heading: "3.2.11. Periods, Question Marks, and Exclamation Points". – cnovwq Aug 20 '15 at 10:44
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Since you are writing dialog and not quoting, the rule is simple:

Make it a complete sentence.

If your punctuation in dialog is part of the sentence, therefore it goes inside the quotes.

He asked, "Why should I do this?"
"Where are we going?"
"Let's get out of here!"
He yelled, "I want you to do this now!"
"I don't want to do this," I screamed back. Note the difference here.

Now, if you're characters are quoting other characters, that's when you do it differently:

He asked, "Did she say, 'I need to know' or 'I want to know'?"

As a side note, I've never ever heard of anyone using MLA to write a work of fiction. And novelists often break the rules for narrative purposes.

2

Your friend says this:

I should put question mark inside of quotation mark (?") if the question is only part of the sentence

That's true.

Your friend also says this:

I should put question mark outside of quotation mark ("?) if the whole sentence is a question.

Either your friend is wrong, or else you misunderstood your friend, and thus your paraphrase is wrong.

3.2.11 says:

Place a question mark outside if the quotation ends a sentence that is a question.

You don't have a "sentence ending in a quotation" in Nos. 2 and 3; you simply have a quotation. Leave the terminating punctuation marks inside. To apply rule 3.2.11, you'd need something like this:

Isn't the last line of that movie, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn"?

  • I think the last line of that movie is actually "Tomorrow is another day." ^_^ – Robusto Aug 20 '15 at 11:11

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