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February 20, 2012 - Punctuation and Quotation

Writers love to use quotation marks. Whether to provide a quote, write dialogue, set off words used in special ways, or to set off titles, quotation marks are prevalent throughout any composition and an important part of writing.

However, many writers often misuse punctuation at the end of their quotations. These errors are so common, but they are very easy to remediate using the following three simple rules:

1. Final periods and commas are always included INSIDE the quotation marks.

They always said he was "a natural athlete," but no one knew he was a professional.

She understood the importance of being a valuable member of the "team."

"James," she said. "Go get your brother a towel."

2. Semicolons and colons are always placed OUTSIDE quotation marks.

Employees who do well in their job receive "certificates of appreciation"; those who do exceptionally well get promoted.

The lobbyists were pleased with the politician's promise of "broad reforms": tax breaks for the middle class.

3. When you use a question mark, exclamation point, or dash, you should place the punctuation marks inside or outside the quotation marks depending on whether or not the punctuation mark is part of the quotation. If part of the quotation, place the quotation marks after the punctuation. If not part of the quotation, place the quotation marks before the punctuation.

"Go!" he said.

"When do you want to leave for Hawaii?" she asked.

"Stop what you are doing, or - " Henry paused, trying to regain his composure.

Did you start reading "The Da Vinci Code"?

Whatever you do, don't yell "Fire"!

Follow these three simple rules for your writing when using quotations, and you will be successful. But don't quote me on that....

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