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How should I punctuate around quotes?

For example, if I want to show someone's response in the same sentence, what would I do?

Would the comma from the end of the quote be enough?

He said, "Get me a drink," but I didn't want to.

Because this looks weird:

He said, "Get me a drink,", but I didn't want to.

What if the quote end with a question?

He said, "Will you get me a drink?" but I didn't want to.

I think that I would need a comma somewhere.

He said, "Will you get me a drink?," but I didn't want to.

He said, "Will you get me a drink?", but I didn't want to.

The ?," looks better to me, but I don't know. How do you do it?


The "American rule" is that question marks and exclamations go inside the quote if they are part of the quote, otherwise outside. Periods and commas go inside the quote.

The "British rule" is that all punctuation goes inside the quote if it is part of the quote and outside otherwise.

If there is a comma or semi-colon inside the quote under either rule, do not put another one outside the quote. Any other punctuation does not affect the use of commas and semi-colons.

So under the British rule you would write:

He said, "Get me a drink", but I didn't want to.

Under the American rule:

He said, "Get me a drink," but I didn't want to.

Under either rule:

He said, "Will you get me a drink?", but I didn't want to.

As the names imply, the British rule is generally used in Britain and the American rule in the US, but some Americans use the British rule. I don't know if many Britons use the American rule.

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  • The British rule is taught and used in Canada as well. Probably most former British colonies. Probably most English-speaking countries. – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Apr 27 '12 at 21:10
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    The "under either rule" part is actually wrong as far as the Chicago Manual of Style is concerned. – RegDwigнt Apr 27 '12 at 21:41
  • I was taught the "American rule" (naturally), but over time I've come to find it jarring. These days I generally use the British rule, but I feel self-conscious about it. – MT_Head Apr 27 '12 at 22:00
  • @RegDwight Really? So what does CMS say is the correct rule? The above is what I was taught. Or at least, how I recall what I was taught. – Jay Apr 30 '12 at 19:21
  • Despite being a patriotic American, in this case I think the British rule makes more sense too. It's more consistent. I only use the American rule when editors or proofreaders demand it, and then I whine and cry. – Jay Apr 30 '12 at 19:22

This is one of the trickiest parts of punctuation, and there's not really a good answer and different style guides may even suggest different solutions. The best solution I've been able to come up with is to write so that the punctuation fits seamlessly within the enclosing sentence. The rationale I work to has its origin in a more basic sentence structure where the rule is pretty much universal.

"I like cows," Jane said.

Here, the comma isn't really part of Jane's sentence, which, as a quotation on its own would be expressed as

"I like cows."

So the key principle is that while the post quotation punctuation remains within the quotation marks, it is selected to make sense in context of the sentence as a whole.

The problem you are having is because we expect questions to end with a question mark, whereas we're used to the convention whereby full stops (periods to the American types) are replaced by commas, to the extent its done without really thinking about it.

You have a couple of options that would probably fit within common usage - using either a comma or a question mark before the closing quote. Neither is entirely satisfactory.

The way I solve this problem in practice is to rephrase the sentence so as to make it go away, thus your sentence would become:

He asked me to get him a drink, but I didn't want to.

If the exact words that were used were important, I'd probably go with:

He said "will you get me a drink?" However, I didn't want to.

Note that "will" doesn't get capitalised here because it's in the middle of a sentence, and takes its structure from the sentence around it. Some style manuals suggest using a comma after "said" in this context, but I prefer not to because I feel it interrupts the grammatical flow of the sentence.

If this sort of sentence is giving you difficulty, the key thing to remember is that the point of written text is communication. Try to find a construction that communicates your meaning as clearly as possible. It helps to remember that the way inline quotations are punctuated is largely down to convention rather than any particular logic.

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