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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."

  • you can thank Steve Martin for the use of ". – Stephen Furlani 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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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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