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Grammar Repair Shop: Quotation marks, inside and out

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in Workplace Communication

Problem: When quoted material comes at the end of a sentence, the pileup of punctuation causes con-fusion.

Lesson: American style calls for always placing periods inside the quotation marks. (In contrast,
the placement under British style depends upon whether the punctuation applies to the sentence or the quoted material.)

Example: Then, he said, "Please finish these before you leave."

But what do you do about other punctuation? Follow these guidelines:

Question marks and exclamation points go inside the quote marks—or outside—depending on whether they apply to the quoted material or the entire statement.

Then he asked, "What were you thinking?" Did he say that it was a "fantastic idea"?

Semicolons and colons almost always go outside the closing quotation marks.

Example: You need three qualities to be named "Employee of the Year": superior attitude, great results and terrific teamwork.
Peeved by a common error? Puzzled by perplexing grammar rules? Send us an e-mail at with the subject "Grammar." Or call us at (703) 905-4850.

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