Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0: Single Quotation Marks Within Double Quotes: Where Does the Period Go?
Posted by KAREN WOJCIK BERNER
Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?
I received an email from Leah Rae with a question about punctuation in relation to closing quotation marks.
My question is punctuation. I know how to use double quotes. Period, then last quotation mark. But when you have a word or two in single quotes, does the same hold true? Looks wrong not to have period outside last single quote. Thanks.
Leah Rae, thanks for your email. It can get a little confusing, especially if you read British novels, which have their own quotation mark rules that aren’t similar to American English. We’re lucky with this one because, for once, the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook both use the same rule.
Periods and commas should always be within quotation marks, regardless of whether they are used within single or double quotes.
Other punctuation, such as the dash, semi-colon, question mark, and exclamation point, only go within quotation marks when they apply to the quoted matter or were a part of the original quote. Otherwise, they belong outside the closing quotation marks.
Here are some examples.
“I can’t believe it,” she said. “You’ve never seen an episode of ‘The Crown.’”
Which of Shakespeare’s characters said, “All the world’s a stage”?
She said, “He told me, ‘I love you.’”
How can you not know “Burning Down the House”?
Just so you know, British style uses only single quotation marks and only the punctuation that appears in the original material should be included inside those single quotes. However, that said, there are many exceptions to that rule. Periods usually appear within the quotation marks, and double quotes are reserved for quotations within quotations.
To recap, periods and commas inside double or single quotation marks; semi-colons and colons outside double or single quotation marks. Question marks, exclamation points, and dashes can be either outside or inside depending on the situation. Were they a part of the original quoted matter? Then, inside. If not, then outside the closing quotation mark.
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These five books are on my desk at all times. Maybe they'll help you as well.
The Associated Press Stylebook, 2017 edition
The Chicago Manual of Style, 18th edition
Strunk and White's The Elements of Style
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition
The Bugaboo Review: A lighthearted guide to exterminating confusion about words, spelling, and grammar
A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women's fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com.