Quotation marks at the end of a sentence

Learn where to place a period, question mark, or exclamation point when using quotation marks

Quotation marks. You know—those pesky little punctuation marks your kid carefully positions smack-dab above the period, hoping you won’t notice his indecision.

Fret no more! Here’s a helpful little tutorial on how to use quotation marks at the end of a sentence. While this definitely isn’t meant to be the final word on quotation marks, I hope it helps you shore up your own understanding of how to end a sentence correctly when quotation marks are involved.

(And, for the record, I’m speaking of American grammar rules here, so if you still flub up on where to stick the period, blame it on the British.)

Keep It Inside

Generally speaking, the end punctuation goes INSIDE the quotation marks.

Correct: “Don’t be silly,” said the clown.
Incorrect: “Don’t be silly”, said the clown.

Correct: My favorite poem is “Mr. Grumpledump’s Song.”
Incorrect: My favorite poem is “Mr. Grumpledump’s Song”.

Correct: Mom asked, “Did you feed the aardvark?”
Incorrect: Mom asked, “Did you feed the aardvark”?

The Question of Question Marks

When the entire sentence—not just the quoted word or phrase—is a question, you’ll follow a different rule  In this case, the question mark is set OUTSIDE the quotation marks.

Correct: Do you consider her note “noteworthy”?
Incorrect: Do you consider her note “noteworthy?”

Correct: Should we sing “The Hairbrush Song”?
Incorrect: Should we sing “The Hairbrush Song?”

Double Trouble

Finally, what do you do when faced with two end punctuation marks? Can you use both? In a word, no. See, there’s a hierarchy of sorts in punctuation. The exclamation mark trumps the question mark, and both trump the period.

Use just one ending punctuation mark with quotation marks. If a question ends with a quotation containing an exclamation mark, the exclamation mark will override the question. Got that?

I didn’t think so.

OK, here’s an example:

Correct: Mom said, “Don’t eat the cookies!”
Correct: Did Mom really say, “Don’t eat the cookies!”
Incorrect: Did Mom really say, “Don’t eat the cookies!”?

But if you don’t want an exclamation point, the question mark wins, and no period after cookies is used:

Correct: Mom said, “Don’t eat the cookies.”
Correct: Did Mom really say, “Don’t eat the cookies”?
Incorrect: Did Mom really say, “Don’t eat the cookies?”

Want to Practice?

Copy and paste these sentences. Add commas, ending punctuation, and quotation marks.

Dad said Did you know it’s illegal to hunt camels in Arizona

Grandpa said I used to be a shoe salesman, till they gave me the boot

My dog asked Does the name Pavlov ring a bell

What’s another word for thesaurus

Why did Horace shout Don’t touch the stove

Old owls never die Fernie said They just don’t give a hoot

Feel free to try your hand at these in the Comments. Then check out the answers below.

Dad said, “Did you know it’s illegal to hunt camels in Arizona?”

Grandpa said, “I used to be a shoe salesman, till they gave me the boot.”

My dog asked, “Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?”

What’s another word for thesaurus“?

Why did Horace shout, “Don’t touch the stove!” or
Why did Horace shout, “Don’t touch the stove“?

Old owls never die,” Fernie said. They just don’t give a hoot.”

Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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5 comments ↓

#1 Brian on 06.13.11 at 1:02 pm

Have you heard of the interrobang? I just did recently. It’s the combination of exclamation point and question mark. As in,

What is going on here?!

It’s still not considered standard, but the fact that it is so common that it has an actual name suggests it may become accepted one of these days.

Punctuation rules are hard enough as they are, we don’t need to add new marks do we? :)

#2 Kim on 06.13.11 at 1:34 pm

The interrobang? Oy. You just gave me a headache. :)

#3 Brian on 06.14.11 at 2:25 pm

Crazy, right?!

#4 BCP on 02.14.14 at 6:15 pm

I know I’m about 3 years too late on this post. What about when the question follows in the middle of a sentence? Question mark or comma or both?

My dad asked, “Did you eat?”, and I answered, “Yes.”

#5 Kim Kautzer on 02.14.14 at 9:56 pm

BCP: The Chicago Manual of Style says: “When two different marks of punctuation are called for at the same location in a sentence, the stronger mark only is retained.” (5.5)

In your example,the question mark is the dominant mark because it provides context to the sentence. Therefore, you wouldn’t need the comma.

My dad asked, “Did you eat?” and I answered, “Yes.”

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