Placement of Periods: Before or After Quotations

Punctuation rules used with quotations are sometimes difficult to remember as there are only slight differences. Whether to place punctuation inside or outside quotation marks depends on the type of punctuation you’re using.

When citing a paper or writing dialogue, writers often get confused about whether to use a period “.” before or after quotes.

Period Before or After Quotes — Which One to Use?

Are you confused about whether to put a period inside or outside quotations? The most prevalent and preferable option is to always use a period inside the quotes. The preference is to do with the American and British styles of writing.

Writing styles in the United States usually include commas and periods before the quotation mark. However, colons, semicolons, and dashes are placed after the quotes. In British style, the punctuations can go before or after quotes based on preference.

American style guides like the Associated Press (AP), the Modern Language Association (MLA), and The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago) follow the American rule for periods.

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Usage of Punctuations Inside Quotation Marks

Quotation marks are punctuations that come in pairs and are used to separate the exact text or speech spoken by someone.

Let’s look at the instances that typically require punctuation within quotation marks.

1. Periods and Commas

In the American Style of writing, the period (.) will appear before the last quotation mark to enclose the quoted sentence.

Example: She said, “I will be visiting my friend’s place later today.”

If a sentence contains multiple quotes, the period is placed before all the final quotation marks.

Example: John told me, “Arthur said, ‘The plan will never work out.'”

When a quote ends in the middle of a sentence, a comma is used at the end and before the quotation marks.

Example: “The professor is taking a class now,” said the assistant.

2. Questions and Exclamations

If a quotation is a question, but the main sentence is not, we typically place the question mark inside the final quotation marks. In this case, you don’t also need a period to end the sentence.

Example: She stopped me in the park and asked, “Where do you live?”

When the quote and the sentence are both questions, you only need to include one question mark at the end for both the sentences.

Example: Who asked, “When will the class end?”

The same rule applies to exclamatory sentences. If the quote is an exclamation or both the quote and the sentence are exclamations, use a single exclamation inside the quotation marks.

Example: Leo shouted, “There’s a cockroach on the bed!”

Usage of Punctuations Outside Quotation Marks

Now, let’s look at the instances that use punctuations outside the quotation marks.

1. British English

British English uses single quotation marks for direct quotes, unlike the American style. Periods and commas only appear inside the quotation marks if the original quoted sentence also contained this punctuation.

Otherwise, the rule is always to put the punctuation after the quotation marks.

2. Commas Introducing Quotes

When introducing a quote in a sentence, a comma is usually used to precede the quote before starting the quotation mark. Some style guides may suggest this comma is unnecessary, but if you use it, make sure it is placed outside and before the quote.

Example: The teacher said, “The class is postponed.”

3. Questions and exclamations

These punctuations are typically placed outside of the quotation marks when a sentence is a question or an exclamation, but the quote is not.

Question mark: When will you stop saying “I don’t know”?

Exclamation point: John failed the exam for the third time and said, “It doesn’t matter.”!

To Wrap Up

Punctuation is like a regulator attached to written work to ensure the writer conveys the intended meaning to the audience. Proper punctuation significantly strengthens the writing and the meaning.

One of the most debated topics in English is whether to place the period before or after quotes. This article is a quick guide to help you understand this concept and how this impacts your written work.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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