Submitted by Dyske  •  March 18, 2003

Commas, Periods, and Quotation Marks

I know that commas and periods go inside quotation marks, but I can’t help breaking this rule. Firstly, they look better outside. Secondly it doesn’t make sense, at least to me. For instance:

From the crowd I heard, “apple!,” “orange!,” “grape!,” and “banana!.”

For each expression, the exclamation mark makes sense to be within the double-quotes because it functionally belongs to each person who is uttering it, but the commas do not. What the first person said is: “apple!” The comma has nothing to do with him. That is, he is not the one who is itemizing various fruits. As far as he is concerned, apple was the only thing he needed to express. Functionally speaking the comma belongs to the sentence, not to the expression. For me, it looks much better to write:

From the crowd I heard, “apple!”, “orange!”, “grape!”, and “banana!”.

This makes it clear what I am itemizing. Here is one quote, here is another, and so on..

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In your example:

From the crowd I heard, "apple!," "orange!," "grape!," and "banana!."

I would change it too appear as such:

From the crowd I heard, "Apple!" "Orange!" "Grape!" "Banana!"

In other words, I would make the list separate sentences in and of themselves. Different people said each word, so each word stands alone. I might even change the comma after "heard" to a colon.

From the crowd I heard: "Apple!" "Orange!" "Grape!" "Banana!"

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Your sentance also breaks another rule of quotation, which is that if you change whom you are quoting, you must start a new paragraph.

It would therefore be better to write:

From the crowd I heard shouted, "Apple!"
"Orange!"
"Grape!"
"Banana!"

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i love rebels like you who don't follow rules that don't make sense! my nose is covered with poop, or is it in poop, or on poop. either i'm gonna break the rules and not clean it off, because the rule that says i must clean it off does not make sense, much like commas inside quotation marks."

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Joe, while I agree with your assessment of the rule I disagree with the example with which you chose to break it. The exclamation is implied as part of the quoted word so in this case it would make sense to include it inside the quote marks.
The statement that includes the quote seems to beg for a period rather than a banger as in "blah!". This is of course incorrect in America, where it is perfectly acceptable to choose varied styles within one piece of text, unless it is for publication in a speciffic print vehicle (in which case their rules would be the best choice) the last punctuating period can also be implied by the close quote containing some other closing mark.
The art is to make up the rules in such a way that they do not disagree with your sentence.

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Well, I agree with him in spirit--I hate the "punctuation always inside quotation marks" rule, and break it whenever it would mean my writing would be confusing (technical contexts, mostly). But language *isn't* always logical, and *is* a matter of custom. The fact is, the "standard" custom in America is still to put many puctuation marks inside quotation marks, even when it isn't logical. Perhaps, over time, this will change...and I won't be sorry when it does. But for now, if, say, I were submitting something to a magazine (at least, an American magazine), or writing in any context where using "standard American English" were important, I'd put the punctuation inside the quote marks unless I had a *really* good argument for not doing so.

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How very odd. When I put in the comment below, it was a response to another (very recent) comment...but now that one has disappeared. I didn't mean to reply to a several-year-old-thread.

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The rules differ, generally, in each English-speaking country. And within each English-speaking country, individual publishing houses may go against the flow.

In general, in the US, punctuation goes inside the quotes whether is part of the quoted material or not. The reason for this is purely aesthetic. A full stop (period in the US) outides the quotes seems to dangle forlonely. In general, in the UK, the punctuation goes insides the quotes if it logically part of the quoted material and outside the quotes otherwise. However, the Cambridge University Press in the UK follows the US convention.

Even within the US and the Cambridge University Press, exceptions are often made in books related to computing, where a command that has to be typed in is quoted. You will break your Linux computer if you give the command "rm /etc/passwd". You will not break your Linux computer if you give the command "rm /etc/passwd." Sometimes pragmatism has to override aesthetics...

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"you do not know what you're talking about," miles said.

"are you gay?" miles asked. not "are you gay?", miles asked.

from the crowd i heard, "idiot!" "homo!" "apples!" "oranges!"

certainly not: from the crowd i heard, "idiot!", "homo!", "apples!", "oranges!"

the exclamation and question mark superced the comma.

who wrote the book "you guys are wrong"?

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"you do not know what you're talking about," miles said.

"are you gay?" miles asked. not "are you gay?", miles asked.

from the crowd i heard, "idiot!" "homo!" "apples!" "oranges!"

certainly not: from the crowd i heard, "idiot!", "homo!", "apples!", "oranges!"

the exclamation and question mark superced the comma.

who wrote the book "you guys are wrong"?

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I love it when people come together and share opinions, great blog, keep it up.

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Shane's comment is correct in that you would need to start a new paragraph to indicate different speakers; this would correct yet another problem in the original sentence, which is that you should never have two ending punctuation marks. That is the real reason why the punctuation inside the end quote looks funny. As well, normally, it looks much cleaner to have the end puncutation mark inside the end quote--visually it follows the order of top to bottom (the period or comma is lower on the page than the end quote); and also, the rule parallels the period within or without the paranthesis rule as well.

I find the opposite irritability as most of the postings here--I hate to see the comma outside of the end quote, it looks so messy and spread out, and most of all it breaks the grammar rule which should not be so easily changed as word usage--else why have academic standards?

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Yes, I think Brian is onto something. I do a lot of reading (academic stuff), and only recently I have started to notice that certain authors consistently put punctuation inside the inverted commas, even when the punctuation clearly belongs to the sentence as a whole rather than the content within the quotation marks. I would guess it is a US/UK thing.

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I am in complete agreement! As written English is already fraught with many strange rules and customs, I think that in this case, whoever made up the rule that ending punctuation always goes inside the quotation marks is just plain "WRONG"!

The entire idea of punctuation is to convey the syntactical meaning of a sentence or phrase when simple word order is ambiguous, or to indicate additional emotive or emphatic meaning than the words themselves suggest. That's my take on punctuation; I could be wrong. Anyway, syntactically, your list of quotes above is exactly that -- a list -- and as such, the commas should separate each item entirely, meaning the comma is outside the quotes.

While we're at it, I see you chose to include the final comma before the "and", a custom which I had been taught was optional. I don't believe that it is -- I feel that without the comma, the final two list items would be bound as a unit, such as "franks and beans". However, if I could only change one of these items in the grammar textbooks, it would certainly be the quotation-punctuation rule.

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Yes I agree. This rule drives me up the wall. I live in the US and I'm editing for a magazine primarily out of Australia, with many writers from the UK as well, so they use the ozzy/UK spelling/style. *They* put punctuation *outside* quotations unless the quotation is a complete sentence. It's good to have our intuitive hunches validated in other english-speaking countries.

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I heartily agree. I have been purposefully using "incorrect" punctuation in both of those areas. It is really nice to hear that I'm not alone in disagreeing with these illogical rules.

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Couldn't agree more! As a philologist for whom English is a second language, I have a natural sensitivity towards these rules. As our friend mentioned before, in British English, the rule is to put the commas and periods outside the quotation, and I purposefully follow the English rules everywhere!

Something I want to ask you to bring into attention. English has its own names for other languages: Eliniki is called Greek, Deutsch is German, and so on. About the name of the language of Iran: the English name is Persian, a correct name based on the rules of English. However, there has been a wide use of the word Farsi in main stream media (and even the computer world). Farsi is the local name for the language, and as we don't say "I speak Espanol" when conversing in English, we shan't say Farsi either. Please point out this matter in your weblog.

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I realize it's a bit off-topic, but I agree heartily with Joe on the serial comma rule. It makes so much more sense to have apples, oranges, and pears than it does to have apples, oranges and pears.

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Wow! Thanks for the informative information. I intuitively choose to include the commans within the quotes probably because that was how I learned in grade school. I wonder, how did this distinction between American and British English originate?

Scott
http://www.klettke.org

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When Iwas in 3rd grade I resently didnt

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I found out that language ,grammer,and puncuations were not all that fun ,but I got even better than I thought I would get so I understand language its my favorite subject.

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When Iwas in 3rd grade I resently didnt get language arts ,but then Ihad a granmother that was a teacher and she tought me the hard parts in language arts

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Yes, putting punctuation inside the end-quote is totally screwed up.

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