What is the rule for comma placement before a quotation mark? When should the comma go before and when should it go after the quotation mark?

  • 2
    Quotation marks come in pairs, one before and one after the quoted text. The quoted text itself should never either start or end with a comma. So the answer is you can only put a comma before the quote mark that introduces a quote, or after the quote mark that terminates a quote. Nov 15 '11 at 23:39

In American literature and university courses, the method for introducing a quotation is the same as the British English style: the comma is placed after the last word that introduces the quotation.

Martin said, “Who brought that dog?”

As for the closing quotation mark, American English prefers the comma to be placed before the ending quotation mark.

In her notebook, Sheila wrote that the sun was “beet-red,” but after the game she had seen it “disappear over the bleachers.”

  • 2
    +1 for this excellent answer which "gets it right." It's also the same here in Canada, where "commas," and other punctuation such as "periods," "exclamation points," "interrogation marks," etc., are generally contained within a set of quotation marks. In all the different schools I attended, the English teachers always adhered to this rule as well, so there's some history of this in teaching as well. Nov 16 '11 at 2:50
  • 7
    However, one exception with interrogation marks can be: Did the cat say "antidisestablishmentarianism"? In this case, placing the interrogation mark outside of the quotation marks communicates to the reader that the cat isn't asking a question when saying this word; such context can be critical. (It's important to note that there are other exceptions as well, which work in a similar manner.) Nov 16 '11 at 2:55
  • 4
    On the other hand, British English puts the comma outside the quotation marks. See the APA Style blog: He said "Sorry", but he didn't mean it.
    – daviewales
    Jun 15 '14 at 8:16

The above mentioned rules are often broken in the context of computer programming. It does not always result from the fact that a poster doesn't know the rules, but it would just be misleading, eg.

After that you need to issue "find . -name *.jpg {};."

In the above example the last full stop is NOT a part of the command and, if typed as such, would lead to errors.

  • 4
    +1 because technical contexts are known exceptions to this when it's either particularly burdensome, or not appropriate, to place the data on a separate [and often indented] line of its own. Nov 16 '11 at 2:51
  • 1
    Inline code should really be set in a typewriter face, or at least a typeface different from the main text. There is still the issue of the full stop – I would omit it because punctuation clarifies text by definition, and including it would achieve the opposite of clarification. For example, you need to issue find . -name *.jpg {};
    – mk12
    Jun 24 '13 at 21:04
  • Inline code might be sent in a plaintext email...
    – daviewales
    Jun 15 '14 at 8:11
  • Could one not also rephrase the statement like so: You need to issue the command "find . -name *.jpg {};" after that.? Dec 2 '15 at 17:48

The answers here are correct, if the original question is concerned exclusively with full quotes — aka grammatically whole sentences. If, however, we were to also consider partial quotes (a fragment of a sentence that could not stand alone), the punctuation rules are quite different. In almost every case, no comma will precede a partial quote. If that partial quote falls at the end of the sentence, then the period will of course go inside the closing quote mark.

A partial quote has a variety of grammatical functions in a sentence and cannot get the same punctuation every time.


Larry Trask dealt with this thoroughly in the 'Penguin Guide to Punctutation'. The text is now available online.

  • 2
    Trask declares a comma preceding a quotation as "bad style" -- interesting. Nov 16 '11 at 11:30
  • 1
    @Jen: As he says, it's pointless, but it's still frequently found, I suspect. Nov 16 '11 at 11:40
  • 2
    It really is pointless in a way, but maybe there is a difference if the quote is a full sentence rather than an excerpt? That's how I've always seen it and used it myself. Nov 16 '11 at 14:23
  • The URL leads to a different page now, but I could find the article here web.archive.org/web/20070629030614/http://…
    – Hristo
    Sep 6 '13 at 4:05
  • @Hristo. Thank you, and apologies to any who have been led to the wrong site. Sep 6 '13 at 17:33

Usually, quotations go after commas in grammar books. It usually helps with showing that the comma is not part of the words outside the quotations.

  • Welcome to EL&U. The convention you describe in American, and previously noted by breen; to support the answer, you can use the voting icons next to that answer. If you are new to Stack Exchange, which is a network of Q&A sites and not discussion forums, I encourage you to take the site tour and visit the help center for guidance.
    – choster
    Jun 13 '14 at 18:41

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