Select Page

We’ve covered when to use quotation marks. But when you throw question marks and exclamation points into the mix, things can get a little tricky. Let’s demystify this quotation mark conundrum, shall we?

The Tenuous Relationship Between Question and Quotation Marks

Buckle up. We may experience some turbulence.

Periods, Commas, and Quotation Marks

Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, whether they be single quotes or double quotes.

“I told you that you shouldn’t try walking barefoot on broken glass,” Mickey said.

Carter responded, “I believe you actually said, ‘you shouldn’t try walking on shattered glass.’”

Question Marks and Exclamation Points

Question marks and exclamation points, however, are a little trickier. Rules of logic come into play.

If the question or exclamation is within the quotation marks, then the punctuation also goes within the quotes.

“My feet are killing me!” Mark wailed.

Carter asked, “Well, why didn’t you pay attention to Mick’s warning?”

On the other hand, if the question or exclamation is not part of the quote itself, the punctuation goes outside the quotes.

Have you ever shared Forrest Gump’s sentiment that “life is like a box of chocolates”?

A Caveat

Keep in mind, these are the rules for American English. The Brits have a different method of punctuating with quotation marks, so if you’re writing for an audience in the UK, these rules don’t necessarily apply to your work.

Do quotation marks ever trip you up? What sticky punctuation situations have you written yourself into? Let me know in the comments.


Take fifteen minutes to write about three friends who just acted on a really bad idea despite advice to the contrary. Use punctuation properly in your quotations.

Post your practice in the comments section. And if you practice, make sure to give feedback to a few other practitioners.

Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.
Add Comment
Viewing Highlight