Quotation marks are used around the exact words someone says and around certain titles (song titles, chapter titles in books, magazine article titles — see my blog post on quotes versus italics.)
Single quotes (‘), as opposed to double quotes (“), are used for quotes inside of quotes and nothing else. Do not use single quotes to emphasize text (do not use double quotes either); use italics or bold for emphasis.
It is often necessary to use other types of punctuation along with quotation marks: commas, periods, colons, semicolons, question marks, and exclamation points. So which comes first, the quotation marks or the other punctuation? Well, it depends….
Here are the rules:
1. Periods and commas ALWAYS go inside the quotation marks. ALWAYS.
- “Make sure you pack your summer clothes,” Mom said.
- Mom said, “Make sure you pack your summer clothes.”
- She said, “My favorite song is ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow.'” (Yes, even when there are three quotation marks, one belonging to the song title and the other two belonging to the whole quote. The period or comma is inside all three quotation marks.)
2. Semicolons and colons ALWAYS go outside the quotation marks.
- She said, “I don’t know what to do”; he answered “I don’t know what to do either.”
It is probably never necessary to use colons and semicolons with quotations marks, so I wouldn’t worry about this one.
3. Question marks and exclamation points …. WELL, IT DEPENDS. These can go either way,
- If the question mark or exclamation point belongs to just what is in the quotes, it goes inside the quotes.
- If the question mark or exclamation point belongs to the entire sentence, it goes outside the quotes.
- If the question mark or exclamation point belongs to both, it goes inside the quotes. Just use one.
He said, “Who are you?” (The question mark belongs to the quote only and it goes inside.)
Did he say, “I am John”? (The whole sentence is a question, but the quote itself isn’t. The quote goes outside.)
Did he ask, “Who are you?” (The quote is a question, and the whole sentence is also a question. Don’t use two question marks. Use only one, and place it inside the quotation marks.)
Exclamation points are treated exactly the same as question marks.
He screamed, “Help me!” (Quote itself is the exclamation, so the mark goes inside the quotes.)
He had the nerve to say to me,”You are an idiot”! (The whole sentence is exclamation, but the quoted part really isn’t . Mark goes outside.)
I freaked out when he screamed, “You are on fire!” (Both the quoted portion and the whole sentence are exclamations. Use one mark and put it inside.)
Please refrain from using question marks and exclamation points together.
He screamed, “Do you know the way?” ( You don’t need an exclamation point after the quotes. It already says he screamed.)