According to Wikipedia, there are two ways to use punctation marks when it comes to quoting. Basically, we have the British style, where punctation marks that don't come from the quoted material "is put outside the quote", like I just did. In the American style, on the other hand, punctation marks that belongs to the original sentence, that the quoted material is put within, should be "placed within the quote itself," like I just did.

Now, I really, really, prefer the British style, since this is the way I've always done it, including when I write in my native language. However, at the same time, I prefer to use the american spelling and usage of words. Is this mixing behavior on my part acceptable?

It is mentioned in the Wikipedia article linked to above that "many American style guides specific to certain specialties, such as legal writing and linguistics, prefer British style." However, is there a general rule (or maybe a strong recommendation), for example if I'm just writing an essay or, I don't know, a blogpost, regarding how I can mix the different spellings and punctation mark rules?

  • 6
    My impression is that there are enough Americans who are starting to use "logical" (i.e., British) placement of punctuation inside/outside quotation marks that there is no reason for you to avoid using it. I do recommend being consistent. Nov 19, 2011 at 13:57
  • 1
    In the case of American/British spelling, the geographic implications of the distinction are relevant, but I think that's far less the case in respect of this particular aspect of punctuation (which could just be called "Style A" and "Style B"). So I agree with @Peter's position that there's no real meaning to what OP calls "mixing behaviour". Consistency within each choice is all that matters. Apart from the obvious (to me) fact that the "American" quoted punctuation style looks illogical - if not actually archaic. Nov 19, 2011 at 14:09
  • You can do whatever you want in your own personal diary...and your self-published works like things on the web, but if a newspaper or journal or book publisher publishes your work, they'll probably want you to stick to just British or just American style (they'll be annoyed by the 'wrong' punctuation or grammar whichever (or both) that it is).
    – Mitch
    Dec 13, 2011 at 15:52
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/q/7548/96579
    – ahorn
    Nov 11, 2015 at 20:13

4 Answers 4


Larry Trask deals with this question comprehensively here. Scroll down to the section beginning:

Finally, there remains the problem of whether to put other punctuation marks inside or outside the quotation marks.

  • 3
    Haha...I like this passage: "You may follow your own preference in this matter, so long as you are consistent. If you opt for logical punctuation, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are on the side of the angels, but you should also expect some grim opposition from the other side."
    – Speldosa
    Nov 19, 2011 at 18:38
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    Can you summarize the intent of the article?
    – Mitch
    Dec 13, 2011 at 15:46
  • 6
    Sure, I'm curious and I'll go there, but it's a bit annoying to presume that. The text of your 'answer' isn't an answer as it stands. I'd be nice to get the gist before being required to click through.
    – Mitch
    Dec 13, 2011 at 16:26
  • 2
    I know a while has passed but I agree with what @Mitch writes. If the link goes unavailable or broken, your answer will become not useful at all. You don't need to quote everything, but a summary, even if schematic, that actually answers the question prevents this and is also easier for the future readers.
    – Alenanno
    Jan 15, 2012 at 0:21
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    This isn't really a self-sustaining answer, so shouldn't be up-voted.
    – ahorn
    Nov 11, 2015 at 19:48

The spelling you prefer doesn't have to determine the punctuation style, but if you want to use the British punctuation style using British spelling could work as a clue to the reader that your punctuation isn't incorrect. Or, depending on the reader, it might just make it look like your punctuation and spelling are incorrect.

My own personal rule, as an American, is to put the punctuation inside the quotes unless that results in ambiguity as to whether the punctuation is or isn't part of the quoted text. For example, the sentence:

When the dialog box appears, type "password".

seems less ambiguous than:

When the dialog box appears, type "password."

  • 1
    In the American style, question marks and exclamation marks, unlike periods and commas, are not automatically put inside quotation marks at the end of sentences. This is because they're too tall to sneak under the quotation mark when you're not looking. Nov 19, 2011 at 12:07

Referring to this way of placing quotation marks as the American style is a shorthand for something like the style specified by the stylesheets used by the majority of the publishers based in the U.S. (but not many publishers that are based elsewhere). When one reflects on that, one can see that this is something entirely independent of spelling, and that there is nothing inconsistent about using American spelling and the 'British' way of using quotation marks in the same text.

While American spelling is deeply ingrained in American life, this is not the case with the 'American' way of combining quotation marks with other punctuation. The 'American style' is imposed and enforced from above, by the publishers. When writing something that is to be published by a U.S. publisher, one may have no choice but to go along, but that doesn't mean that, if one regards this style as irrational, one has to follow it otherwise, even in an American context.


If you're following American spelling and usage conventions, then you probably ought to adhere to American punctuation as well, for sake of consistency. The Chicago Manual of Style and Robert Bringhurst's Elements of Typographic Style are two sources for advice on usage and punctuation that support American style; whereas if you devise your own hybrid style, you might wind up with a hodge-podge of exceptions and idiosyncratic affectations.

That's not illegal - you're quite free to follow your linguistic muse in the direction it leads you, but your readers may suffer for it.

It's worth noting that British style isn't necessarily easy to apply. British placement depends on whether the quoted material is complete or a fragment. Making that determination in some cases can become a matter of subjective opinion - in which case the American style starts to make a strong case for itself.

  • 3
    Why would readers suffer from British punctuation with American spelling? I can see suffering from inconsistency in punctuation (or in spelling), but I don't see why American spelling demands American punctuation. Nov 19, 2011 at 13:53
  • 1
    Per my comment to the original question, I think it's unhelpful to introduce the concept of "consistency" when juxtaposing British/American spelling against the two styles of quote punctuation. Also, I don't think "British style" really depends on whether the the quoted material is complete or a fragment - it's irrelevant whether there was a comma, for instance, in the original material. Although one does sometimes see bizarre attempts at American style such as "Hello." he said. Nov 19, 2011 at 14:24
  • @PeterShor It indeed does not. In programming books of mine published by O’Reilly, I’ve done exactly as you suggest. Otherwise it became impossible to clearly indicate whether a comma was truly meant to be part of a quoted string literal used in programming in running text. Far too easy to introduce syntactic or semantic troubles otherwise.
    – tchrist
    Nov 24, 2023 at 0:46

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