Pet Peeves of Style: Quotation & Punctuation

Do you know when punctuation should appear inside quotation marks? Do you know when it shouldn’t? For quotation marks, usages differ between American and British standards. These differences are not limited to the employment of single versus double quotations, and they include expectations about the usages of punctuation inside and out of the marks. That said, when in doubt, English usually demands that you place any final punctuation inside the closing quotation mark. Most casual writers will remember their teachers telling them something of the sort at one time or another. Frequently, remembering this rule will lead to the correct end result; sometimes, it’ll mark you as amateurish.

Here’s how to avoid that:

Many of the exceptions relate to technical writing, especially to expressions which refer to computer-programming languages and code. Here, for our purposes, I couldn’t care less about them. If you quote computer code or logical expressions, in your writing, simply remember: place any punctuation outside the quotations. The likes of programmers and mathematicians should, at once, understand why; the rest of us needn’t bother to ponder to it.

More importantly, one common error often appears in prose. It is less optional than the Oxford comma and almost makes me scream as loudly as the Oxford’s omission.

In English, speech and related phrases appear inside quotation marks, even when denoting irony. In such cases, the terminal punctuation always goes inside the marks:

  • “Yesterday, we went to the moon,” said the boy.
  • “Ye’ll larn a pretty smart chance of things ye never did know, before I’ve done with ye!” said Legree.1
  • Billy asked, “Do you know that hippopotamus?”
  • Trump used “quotation marks,” though he clearly misunderstood their purpose.

English also uses quotations for some titles: episodic television shows, article titles, short stories and films, poems, chapters, songs, and essays.

  • My stories include “Reboot”, “Sapience Signified”, and “Cut Adrift”.
  • My favorite episodes of Firefly are “Out of Gas”, “Our Mrs. Reynolds”, and “Shindig”.
  • Never: He wrote an excellent essay, “The Joys of Wine and Pigs,” which changed my life forever.

In the last case, the inclusion of the comma inside the marks changes the title itself. The name of the essay is no longer “The Joys of Wine and Pigs”, but “The Joys of Wine and Pigs,”. Notice now the offending comma?

Dear writers, never do this, and you’ll make this grammarian a smidgen happier.

Science Fiction and the Personal-Political


  1. Stowe, Harriet Beecher. (1852). Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Leave a Reply