Inside or outside: question marks, exclamation points, and quotation marks

How dare you say that this photo of Blossom “doesn’t make sense with the blog post”!

In American English, periods go inside quotation marks. However, this is not always the case with exclamation points and question marks. Whether these punctuation marks go inside or outside quotation marks depends on context.

If the quote is a question or exclamation, the punctuation mark goes inside the quotation marks.

Examples:
Monica asked, “Have you seen my lighter fluid?”
Hank screamed, “Ow! My face is on fire!”

“I can’t believe you sold my baseball cards!” Sarah shouted to her brother.
“How else was I going to fund my start-up company?” her brother asked.

If the quote is not a question or exclamation, the punctuation mark goes outside of the quotation marks. You’ll often see this when someone is referencing something another person said.

Examples:
Did she tell me to “go jump off a bridge”?
I can’t believe she told me to “enjoy eating some mashed peas”!

Did Paul say that “all you need is love”?
Only a rich guy would say that “all you need is love”!

Quiz
Test your skills with a quiz. After the sentence is either exclamation point or question mark in parentheses. Choose whether the punctuation mark goes inside our outside of the quotation marks. The answers are at the bottom.

1. I’m so mad she said, “Honey, collate all these papers” (exclamation point)
2. “Could you hand me the large sword” Lily asked. (question mark)
3. Stephanie screamed, “Stop pinching me” (exclamation point)
4. Did you ask me to “stop and smell the roses” (question mark)
5. “How much money do you have in your wallet” Ted asked. (question mark)
6. It’s amazing the doctor said so calmly that he “had two hearts” (exclamation point)

1. outside 2. inside 3. inside 4. outside 5. inside 6. outside

About Erin Roof

Editor for hire. Dictionary collector. Part-time cat lady. Word nerd blogging at grammarpartyblog.com
This entry was posted in copy editing, punctuation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Inside or outside: question marks, exclamation points, and quotation marks

  1. MichWalkden says:

    Thanks for your clarification. It makes perfect sense and is the same in UK English. How do you stand though on other punctuation, such as:
    He was reading “To Kill a Mockingbird Bird”, which I loathe, when the rain started.
    I would punctuate as above in UK English, but have been told that in the US the comma would be inside the quotes. Right or wrong?

  2. FS says:

    Canadian rules would say inside too, however, inside also happens to be aesthetically pleasing, and must be just as important, don’t you think? ;-)

    • Erin Roof says:

      I think having commas inside quotes is aesthetically pleasing, but I wonder how much of that is because that’s the way I was taught.

      • FS says:

        Hmmm…. good question. I suppose that none of us can escape what we were taught, or the influences of our culture, however, awareness of it means we can move away from it and not be slave to it. Perhaps, sometimes, maybe, for some people, asymmetrical design is pleasing, and othertimes, not so much. And, grammar rules can be broken. ;-)

  3. Anonymous says:

    She has her PHD(Blossom), makes perfect sense.

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