Punctuation with closing quotation marks

Linguistic Reminder

(This reminder is available in English only.)

Problem

Does a period belong inside or outside closing quotation marks? And what about a question mark?

Solution

Here are some simple guidelines to clear up these punctuation conundrums.

Periods and commas

Canadian practice favours placing the period or comma inside the closing quotation marks:

  • "I am not anti-American," stated Diefenbaker. "But I am strongly pro-Canadian."

This holds true even if the quoted material is not a full sentence:

  • Mackenzie King defined government as "organized opinion."

Colons and semicolons

Colons and semicolons always go outside closing quotation marks.

  • Canadian author Alice Munro has been called "our Chekhov": her short stories focus on epiphany rather than plot.
  • Calgary is sometimes called "Cowtown"; the nickname reflects the city’s history as a centre for livestock trade.

Question marks and exclamation points

These punctuation marks may go inside or outside the closing quotation marks.

Place them inside the quotation marks if the quoted material is a question or an exclamation:

  • Marcus asked, "Have you seen my Shih Tzu?"
  • Samina exclaimed, "You made lamb stew again!"

However, if the entire sentence is a question or exclamation, place the end punctuation outside the quotation marks:

  • What Canadian writer referred to Canada as "the unknown country"?
  • Stop telling me to "relax"!

References

In preparing this linguistic reminder, we consulted the following sources:

The Canadian Press Stylebook (2008)
The Canadian Style (1997)
The Chicago Manual of Style (1993)
Editing Canadian English (2000)
The Gregg Reference Manual (Canadian ed., 2006)

Linguistic Recommendation reference number

REM-19/2010-02

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