I have always had a hard time understanding the English Grammar rule that punctuation end marks like periods, question marks, or exclamation marks should be placed before the end quote.

For instance, why is this correct:

Alice said, "I'm going to go buy another cat, my thirtieth."

But this is not correct:

Alice said, "I'm going to go buy another cat, my thirtieth".

While this question may have been answered in terms of correct usage, I am looking for the reasoning behind the usage, not how to use it correctly.

  • It's a style issue. About 50 years ago the rules were different. Neither scheme is perfect in all contexts, but TPTB insist on having SOME rule. – Hot Licks Jun 30 '18 at 2:53
  • In that sentence, what's inside the quotation marks is a complete sentence. So, it makes sense to me to have the period inside the final quotation mark. I'd be more curious about the reasoning behind using the comma to introduce the sentence (as opposed to a colon or nothing at all . . .) – Jason Bassford Jun 30 '18 at 3:00
  • @JasonBassford I originally used a colon, but second guessed using that. If the comma is incorrect, I will update my question. I've always had a problem with proper punctuation related to quotations. This is part of my journey to logically understand why I've had these problems. Understanding the underlying reason for things helps me grasp the concept fully. – Dshiz Jun 30 '18 at 3:08
  • @Dshiz No, you misunderstand. The comma is correct. You yourself said in your question that you didn't want answers about what is correct, just about the reasoning behind it. While the comma is correct, I think it would make more sense if it weren't—even for direct speech. (And while I do know all of the rules, I think that you may be disappointed to discover that some of them are arbitrary and there is no definitive reason behind them. . .) – Jason Bassford Jun 30 '18 at 4:45
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    Somewhere between about 1960 and 1980 they changed the "rules" in the US. It is tricky in large part because "logic" would often involve doubled punctuation: Then Fred said, "What are you doing here?". But that is not preferred for a number of reasons. – Hot Licks Jun 30 '18 at 12:15

There are differences between American and British styles regarding placement of punctuation inside or outside quotes, and the use of single and double quotes.

Abraham Lincoln said, ‘tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves’. (British)

Abraham Lincoln said, “tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves.” (American)

What we have done here is to recast the sentence so that it essentially belongs to the quoting author, not the person quoted. The full stop, therefore, should end the entire sentence (as in the British version), not just the quoted passage (as in the American).

For a discussion of the differences and convergences between the two styles, see here: Grammar: Quotation Marks

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