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Please bear with me as I am not an English expert, only an aspiring amateur!

I'm mostly aware of the rules regarding punctuation and quotes. Something like the following sentence makes sense to me:

She was so rude that I felt compelled to say, "I hope you act that way toward everyone."

However, where I get confused is when quotation marks are used simply to emphasize a single word or phrase:

Nobody really knew what he meant by "feature".

(I'm not really sure what to call this use of quotation marks. Is this still a quotation?) Should punctuation go inside the quotation marks?

I should clarify that I am interested in the common or accepted American usage.

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Elendil's answer is correct for British usage. In American usage, though, " is usually used for both purposes (speech, as in your first example, and use-mention distinction, in the second); and periods (full stops) generally go inside the quotes, so your second example would be, ...meant by "feature."

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  • you can thank Steve Martin for the use of ". Jan 24 '11 at 19:17
  • Thank you. Yes, I should have specified that I was asking about the American usage.
    – user4012
    Jan 24 '11 at 20:26
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The traditional rule for British English is that punctuation should appear inside the quote marks only if it is part of the quote. So both of your examples would be correct: in the first you are quoting a whole sentence, so include the full stop as part of the quote; in the second you are quoting a single word and the full stop is not part of the quote.

The traditional rule for American English is that the period goes inside the quotes. As is my understanding, the original reason for this was a mechanical limitation of movable type - ending a line with quote-period was less robust than period-quote.

(In either case, where the quote and the surrounding sentence would end with different punctuation marks one is omitted. Usually the more important mark is retained, e.g. keep "?" rather than ".")

However, I don't think this geographical distinction remains entirely accurate for current usage. For example, I know of American cases where a style guide mandates traditional British usage. As long as you choose one and do it consistency, I think either would be generally accepted.

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First off, " are speech marks, i.e. they denote speech.

For quotes you should use ', and generally you would punctuate as normal within them, except that full stops would appear outside them if they are used within a sentence.

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