Quotation Marks and Other Punctuation - Inside or Outside?


Because this question has been raised several times in the past week, I’ve become curious. After I finished at Bancroft Library this morning, I headed to the Main Stacks to check the various style manuals for myself. I was surprised by what I found:

  • The American and British styles are very different.
  • Each of the major American manuals says there is wide disagreement on what constitutes the American style.
  • With one exception (ACS), the major style manuals all agree on the basics!

APA Style -- Although the APA Publication Manual contains many examples illustrating different, specific conditions, its guidance can be summarized as: “Commas and periods that finish quotes are always placed inside quotation marks. Other marks of punctuation are placed outside quotation marks unless they are part of the quoted material.”

     Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2010 p.98

Last year (11 August 2011), the APA posted a blog concerning this issue at http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2011/08/punctuating-around-quotation-marks.html. The posts contains a useful table describing the differences between the “American Style” and “British Style” as well as a large table illustrating the APA style for quotation marks and punctuation.

ACS Style -- “Location of quotation marks is a style point in which ACS differs from other authorities. In 1978, ACS questioned the practice and recommended a deviation from it: logical placement. Thus, if the punctuation is part of the quotation, then it should be within the quotation marks; if the punctuation is not part of the quotation, the writer should not mislead the reader by inferring that it is. Place quotation marks before all punctuation that is not part of the original quotation. Place them after all punctuation that is part of the quotation.”

     The ACS Style Guide: Effective Communication of Scientific Information, Washington, DC: American Chemical Society, 2006  pp. 18-19

AMA Style -- “Put closing quotation marks outside commas and periods, but inside colons and semicolons. Put question marks, dashes, and exclamation points inside quotation marks when they are part of the quote.”

     American Medical Association. AMA Manual of Style: a Guide for Authors and Editors. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007 Section 2.1.1

The AMA says its style guide is similar to the “Vancouver Style” used by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE).

ASA Style -- The ASA does not directly address the question. However, the manual does say that it follows the Chicago Manual of Style in most respects.

     The ASA Style Guide. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association, 2007

MLA Style – First, the MLA Manual provides the blanket restriction: “a sentence can end with a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point” (p.98) which seems to put it in the British Style camp. But it immediately provides (p. 100) an exception. “Place a question mark inside a closing question mark if a question mark occurs there in the quoted passage. But if the quotation ends a sentence that is a question, place a question mark outside the quotation.”

Later (p.. 134), the MLA seems to reverse course on sentence endings by saying “By convention, commas and periods that directly follow quotations go inside the closing quotation marks,”

     MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. 3rd ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2008 (The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers provides similar guidance.)

Chicago Style – The Chicago Manual describes both the “traditional” (American style) and the “alternative” British style. Chicago prefers the American style but says the British style may be appropriate for “some works of textual criticism.”

For the traditional style, Chicago says “Periods and commas precede closing quotation marks, whether double or single” (p. 309). “Colons and semicolons – unlike periods and commas – follow closing quotation marks; question marks and exclamation points following closing quotation marks unless they belong within the quoted matter” (p. 310).

     Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010

AP Style – “The period and the comma always go within the question marks. The dash, semicolon, the question mark and the exclamation point go within the quotation when they apply to the quoted matter only. They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence” (p. 362).

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law,  New York: Associated Press, 2009  

edited Apr 05 '12 at 21:53 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

My sister-in-law works at the Bancroft Library.Good post. Copy this and put in the writing tips thread at the top of recent questions or it will disappear.

Lewis NeidhardtApr 05 '12 at 21:20

I find the staff at Bancroft especially helpful and friendly. Many seem genuinely interested in their patrons' research and offer very useful suggestions. I suppose this both because it is a special-purpose collection and because there are seldom more than ten people using it at a time.

Today, I was looking at the 165-year-old fieldnotes of Captain Henry Naglee -- small, leather-bound notes, handwritten in faint pencil -- from his mission to "pacify" the Yokut and Miwok people. Later, after gaining some Civil War fame, General Naglee would acquire the Mexican rancho grant that his fieldnotes described.

Jeff PribylApr 05 '12 at 23:34

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4 answers


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link comment answered Oct 07 '12 at 18:24 Myla Chaisson New member

You quoted the MLA style as indicating:


 “Place a question mark inside a closing question mark if a question mark occurs there in the quoted passage."


And in the AP section you wrote:


 “The period and the comma always go within the question marks."


Huh? I think you mean "quotation mark(s)" instead of "question mark" in those two bolded spots. I can't believe the MLA style book and the AP style book contains the same error, so must have been your oversight. "Tolley" should have caught that before giving you an "A." :)

link edited Feb 10 '13 at 21:50 Angela Havel New member

Angela's clearly correct comment, from over three years ago, has not led to a correction, making one wonder how much care can be going into this project.

David CohenSep 24 '16 at 19:30

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Huh? I think you mean "...the MLA style book and the AP style contain...", yes?



link comment answered Jan 09 '14 at 17:01 james New member

I don't put periods inside quotation marks unless they belong there as part of the quote. Period. I don't care what the Style Guides and Manuals say. They are wrong and should have been called on their dictatorial arrogance a long, long time ago. I am not a child and don't kowtow to the parental "because we say so". (int. ex.)

link comment answered Oct 15 '16 at 21:52 Dan Minichiello New member

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