how to punctuate quotations


Have you ever quoted something or someone, neared the end of that quote or sentence and begrudgingly put a period or exclamation point inside or outside the quotation mark, not really knowing whether it’s right but hoping no one will notice?

We’ve all been there. But a few simple rules can make you feel less awkward about where you punctuate.

1. Semicolons, colons and dashes always go outside the quotation marks.


  • His favorite movie is “Hairspray” ― the original John Waters version starring Ricki Lake, not the musical.
  • She binged “The Crown”; shortly after, Netflix began recommending all British shows.
  • While at work he couldn’t help quoting his favorite line from the movie “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead”: “I’m right on top of that, Rose!”

2. Question marks and exclamation points can go inside or outside quotation marks depending on the sentence. This depends on whether it applies to the quoted material in the sentence or the entire sentence.


  • In the above example, you can see that the exclamation point only applies from the movie quote, “I’m right on top of that, Rose!” Therefore, it goes inside the quotation marks.
  • “What will we be having tonight for dinner?” Missy asked her live-in chef, Pierre.
  • Try our new health challenge this month, “Shun the Sugar”!

3. In the U.S., commas and periods should always go inside quotation marks.


  • “I started running at age 4, and I never stopped,” John Smith said. “Thanks to the surgeons at my favorite hospital, I’ll be able to continue running.”
  • It’s time for our monthly health screening series, “Be Healthy Today.”

— Sarah Muench, proofreader