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Question Marks with Quotation Marks

Last week, we examined the strict rule governing periods and commas with quotation marks. This week, let’s look at the more logical rules governing the use of question marks with quotation marks.

Rule – The placement of question marks with quotations follows logic. If a question is in quotation marks, the question mark should be placed inside the quotation marks.

Examples:
She asked, “Will you still be my friend?”

Do you agree with the saying, “All’s fair in love and war”?
Here the question is outside the quote.

NOTE: Although some writers and editors disagree in special cases, only one ending punctuation mark is necessary with quotation marks. Also, the stronger punctuation mark wins. Therefore, no period after war is used.

 

Rule – When you have a question outside quoted material AND inside quoted material, use only one question mark and place it inside the quotation mark.

Example:
Did she say, “May I go?”

 

Pop Quiz

Choose the correct sentence.

1A. The song asks, “Would you like to swing on a star?”

1B. The song asks, “Would you like to swing on a star”?

 

2A. “Is it almost over?” he asked?

2B. “Is it almost over?” he asked.

2C. “Is it almost over?,” he asked.

2D. “Is it almost over,” he asked?

 

3A. Do you believe the saying, “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it”?

3B. Do you believe the saying, “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it?”

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1A. The song asks, “Would you like to swing on a star?”

2B. “Is it almost over?” he asked.

3A. Do you believe the saying, “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it”?

 

Posted on Tuesday, April 9, 2013, at 11:45 am


13 Comments

13 Responses to “Question Marks with Quotation Marks”

  1. Michael says:

    Hi,

    I’ve been unable to find a definitive answer about the proper punctuation of sentences consisting of two independent clauses joined by a conjunction in which the first independent clause ends with a quoted question. See the example. I assume that the second comma in the example should be omitted. I realize that one could start a new sentence at “but,” but do the rules of grammar force that one start a new sentence at “but”? If I prefer one sentence, should I place a semicolon where the comma is? My guess is that the example would be OK as it stands if the second were omitted.

    Example:

    The teacher asked slyly, “Is there a hidden assumption?”, but she immediately answered her own question.

    Thanks is advance!

    • Michael says:

      Sorry, at the end I meant: If I prefer one sentence, should I place a semicolon where the second comma is? My guess is that the example would be OK as one sentence if the second comma were omitted.

      • Jane says:

        Your sentence is correct if the second comma is omitted and no semicolon is added.

        The teacher asked slyly, “Is there a hidden assumption?” but she immediately answered her own question.

  2. Michael says:

    Thanks so much!

  3. Brian J. says:

    Hi. I see on Amazon.com that you are coming out with a new edition of “The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation.” Perhaps you have already addressed the following minor issue that I spotted the other day in my “Eighth Edition” of the book:

    In “Table of Contents > Punctuation > Quotation Marks…40” it says, “Placement with periods, commas, question marks, and semicolons…,” but does not mention “semicolons” on page 40 or 41. Nor are “semicolons” addressed on the associated web page on your website: http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/quotes.asp.

    Additionally, typing ” ‘semicolon’ AND ‘quotation marks’ ” into the “Search Box” at the upper-right of your web pages reveals “0 results per page.”

    • Jane says:

      That is an excellent observation that no one had yet pointed out to us. The latest edition in circulation is the tenth, and it contains the same oversight in the Table of Contents that you noted in your eighth edition. You are correct that the eleventh edition will be coming out in February 2014. The oversight is remedied in that the Table of Contents will not mention semicolons under the Quotation Marks heading. The reason there is no discussion of this in the book or on the website is that it is rare to encounter a semicolon next to a quotation mark, and we did not want to dwell on rare circumstances in the book. When you do have this situation, treat it as you would a question mark: follow logic.

  4. Cindy says:

    I don’t understand the difference between saying, Do you agree with the saying, and did she ask as two different things. Aren’t they both questions? So wouldn’t the examples with the do you agree with the saying have the quotations marks on the inside, since technically the person is asking do you agree? Please explain this, i’m really confused.

    • Jane says:

      It is helpful if you look at the words that are inside the quotation marks. The first example is She asked, “Will you still be my friend?” “Will you still be my friend?” is a question, therefore, the question mark belongs inside the quotation marks. The second example is Do you agree with the saying, “All’s fair in love and war”? “All’s fair in love and war” is not a question. Therefore, the question mark should not be inside the quotation marks.

  5. Mac S. says:

    Does this rule apply to exclamation points as well as question marks? Please clarify this on the website.

    • Jane says:

      We feel that this is gray territory, best left alone. However, you’re not likely to get into much trouble if you follow this question mark guidance for exclamation points.

  6. Vanessa says:

    When quoting a book does the question mark go outside or inside the quotation marks? For example: “how could kingship please me more than influence, power/without a qualm?” (Oedipus Rex 664-665). Or would it be “how could kingship please me more than influence, power/without a qualm” (Oedipus Rex 664-665)?

    • Since it is part of the quote, the question mark goes inside the quotation marks. It is usually a good idea to begin a quotation with a capital letter.

      “How could kingship please me more than influence, power without a qualm?” (Oedipus Rex 664-665)

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