Stay Inside the Quote Marks

Unless you are writing British (UK) style, always put commas and periods within the quotation marks in speech. I’m not sure why so many writers don’t follow this simple rule, and I often see them using single quotes randomly instead of double quotes. The rule is that you use double quotes for everything, unless you are putting a quote (single quote) inside another quote (double quote):


  • “Here’s your newspaper”, he said.
  • He called her a “wacko”.
  • They call him a ‘nutcase.’


  • “Here’s your newspaper,” he said.
  • He called her a “wacko.”
  • They call him a “nutcase.”

The exceptions are em dashes . . .

“I wouldn’t do that”—he gave her a stern look—“if I were you!”

. . . and semicolons, if used in this type of manner:

I think you’re “cute”; however, not first thing in the morning.

There are also occasions when question marks belong between single and double quotes, such as:

“What do you mean by ‘I’m dumb’?”

The context determines the placement of question marks (and exclamation marks).


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    1. There are style guides available for Canadian publishing, as there are for US. Maybe buy one and study it, if you plan to publish in Canada for Canadian audiences. However, most of my UK and Canadian clients use US style, as does my canadian publisher, since the US audience is the largest.

  1. Thanks! I have been using single quote marks when not in dialogue and see in your example that is a mistake. So, he says I am not a ‘nutcase’ but a “nutcase” or am I mistaken?

  2. I have often wondered why the British use single quote marks. Is it for the same reason the USA and the British drive on opposite sides of the road?

    I think if many writers, read more, and examined the writing as they went along, they would improve their own punctuation. I read a great deal and am always examining the punctuation including em dashes and how a good novelist uses em dashes to offset a thought.

  3. Great. Like Olivia, I’ve been misusing single-quotes. Now I have to do a search-and-replace on my 221,698-word manuscript.

    At least the rule is easy: single-quotes have only one purpose.

    And I’m SO glad I’m not working with a typewriter.

  4. Strange! I was brought up using double-quotes for dialogue, but had my wrist slapped by my editors over my first draft of “The Poor Preachers.” Apparently, it wasn’t in accord with the Style Manual, which insisted on single-quotes for dialogue.
    Are you telling me that the rules have changed again?
    Mind you, I had always thought that doubles were less confusing than singles, so I’m glad you brought it to our attention. But now I’m rather confused. Who IS setting the standard here? Do I really have to change all my quotes back again?
    Thanks though
    DB aka Arthur D Bardswell

    1. US style has always been (as far as I know) to use double quotes anytime you quote anything. However, if you are quoting within a quote, you use singles inside the doubles. If you are in the UK, you would use single quotes. Just who were those wrist-slapping editors anyway?

      1. Actually, I think I’m doing my editors an injustice. If I remember rightly it was the layout team at my publisher, WestBow Press. They mostly did a good job, but in the process of converting the font. changed all my apostrophes into a curly quote which is also supposed to be a no-no. I had to go through the whole ms and change them for the 2nd time.

  5. As a bilingual writer I probably have been paying double attention from the get-go. I’ve got a love/hate relationship with the subtlety of exceptions that can trip us over.

    The N.Y.Times manual of style and usage tells us:
    Question marks and exclamation points may come before or after quotation marks, depending on whether the symbol applies to the entire sentence or just to the quoted material:
    The crowd shouted, “Long live the king!”
    Just imagine: he was afraid of “elephants without trunks”!
    She shouted, “What are we waiting for?”
    Have you read “The Color Purple”?
    “Did I say, ‘I don’t agree with you’?”
    “She asked, ‘Do you agree with me?'”
    Do you?

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