Grammar 101: Punctuation With Closing Quotation Marks

Great Britain has lots to recommend it: a rich history, a charming monarchy, a logical rule about terminal punctuation and quotation marks. Under the British rule, you put punctuation inside a closing quotation mark if the punctuation belongs to the quote; otherwise, you leave it outside the closing quotation mark.

In America, commas and periods always precede closing quotation marks.

John’s mother admonished him to “tempt neither man nor fate.”

“Come, be my intern,” Senator Harkin said to John.

Colons and semicolons, on the other hand, follow closing quotation marks.

Let’s examine the first line of “Can’t Feel My Face”: “And I know she’ll be the death of me.”
Senator Harkin was listening to “Can’t Feel My Face”; he didn’t hear John knock.

Question marks and exclamation marks follow closing quotation marks unless they are part of the quoted material.

Senator Harkin stopped singing and cleared his throat. “Do you like that song?” he said.
Who in their right mind likes “Can’t Feel My Face”?
Senator Harkin belted, “Timber!”

Now Senator Harkin says he prefers Ke$ha to “Can’t Feel My Face”!

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