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Periods with Quotation Marks

Bart F. recently wrote, “I read your Bluebook rules, but the examples omitted the common usage found when a sentence ends with a quote that completes the thought.”

Bart continued:

Texas, with a history of rugged individualism, was part of the “Sagebrush rebellion”. I was taught that this was the one exception to the quotation mark following the period. Am I right or wrong?

Before I answer his question, let me first ask this: How many of you have been advised of one or all of the following phrases many times, “never say never,” “never say always,” and “there’s an exception to every rule”?

To that I give you our Rule 1 of Quotation Marks: Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, even inside single quotes. (Emphasis added.)

Really, always? Always. Never place the period outside the quotation marks? Never. Are there no exceptions? No exceptions.

There is one catch: This is the American English rule (this newsletter, The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, and www.GrammarBook.com represent American English rules). If you follow British English rules, then Bart is correct and you must use logic instead of just following a rule.

Now, try your hand at the pop quiz. Even if you don’t live in the United States, as long as you follow the American English rule, you really should get 100% right on this quiz!

Pop Quiz

Choose the correct sentence.

1A. Texas, with a history of rugged individualism, was part of the “Sagebrush rebellion”.
1B. Texas, with a history of rugged individualism, was part of the “Sagebrush rebellion.”

2A. She said, “Hurry up”.
2B. She said, “Hurry up.”

3A. The sign changed from “Walk”, to “Don’t Walk”, to “Walk” again within 30 seconds.
3B. The sign changed from “Walk,” to “Don’t Walk,” to “Walk” again within 30 seconds.

Pop Quiz Answers


1B. Texas, with a history of rugged individualism, was part of the “Sagebrush rebellion.”
2B. She said, “Hurry up.”
3B. The sign changed from “Walk,” to “Don’t Walk,” to “Walk” again within 30 seconds.

Did you get them all right?

Posted on Tuesday, April 2, 2013, at 3:38 pm


8 Comments

8 Responses to “Periods with Quotation Marks”

  1. Phillip D. says:

    “Really, always?” I ask, chuckling.

    I am writing an instruction manual for US readers, and must use quotation marks to indicate an exact phrase to be typed. There are many people who would mistakenly type the periods because they are within the quotation marks.

    Consider the following example.

    Step 1. In the Username field, type “Guest.”
    Step 2. In the Password field, type “welcome1.”

    Finally, our style guide doesn’t allow us to phrase the instruction as: Step 1. Type “Guest” in the Username field.

    What is your recommendation?

    • Jane says:

      Wouldn’t you know that the computer world would present us with a valid exception to our always rule. Some alternatives might be:
      Revise your style guide to allow the phrasing you showed that avoids the period within the quotation marks at the end.
      If your style guide does not require complete sentences, omit the period: Step 1. In the Username field, type “Guest”
      Include a notation prior to the steps that tells the user not to type the periods that immediately precede the ending quotation marks because they are only marking the end of the sentences.

  2. Kim says:

    I’ve seen that quotes always enclose sentence punctuation like periods and commas. I have never understood the rationale behind this and it just doesn’t seem right, although “thems da’ rules” applies to this. I’d appreciate an explanation, if there is one that you can find.

    • Jane says:

      We found one, and it seems reasonable, but so do a lot of things that aren’t true. You know the Internet. For what it’s worth, this explanation is from the following source:

      http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/marks/quotation.htm#footnote

      There are peculiar typographical reasons why the period and comma go inside the quotation mark in the United States. The following explanation comes from the “Frequently Asked Questions” file of alt.english.usage: “In the days when printing used raised bits of metal, “.” and “,” were the most delicate, and were in danger of damage (the face of the piece of type might break off from the body, or be bent or dented from above) if they had a ‘”‘ on one side and a blank space on the other. Hence the convention arose of always using ‘.”‘ and ‘,”‘ rather than ‘”.’ and ‘”,’, regardless of logic.” This seems to be an argument to return to something more logical, but there is little impetus to do so within the United States.

  3. Rodney C. says:

    You are missing an important example — periods or commas interfering with the meaning of the text within quotation marks.
    For example:
    To print your document, type “PRINT”.

    Frequently, a different font or font style can be used to clarify what is to be typed. When the use of quotation marks are required, it is essential for this example that the period be outside the quotation marks.

    • You have a good point, one that we’ve encountered frequently over the years. However, you will need to take this up with the bozos who established the quotation-marks rule for American English, which states that ALL periods and commas go inside quotation marks without exception.

      If you want to break the rule, no one will come to your door and haul you away. We don’t blame you for wanting to do it that way. But we are NOT “missing an important example,” don’t blame this on us! You found an instance of how illogical this no-exceptions rule can sometimes be. There are many others.

      By the way, your example has an easy fix:
      Type “PRINT” to print your document.

  4. Chris says:

    Many articles state there is an exception. The only time we put the commas or periods outside the quotation marks is when the item enclosed in quotation marks is a letter or numeral like “A”, or perhaps “4″. Do you agree?

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