Punctuation and Quotation Marks: American Style

American English and British English rules for punctuating with quotation marks are different. Here are the rules for how to incorporate punctuation and quotation marks properly.A

In American English, periods and commas are ALWAYS on the inside of quotation marks. This is one major difference from British English, which takes an ” it depends” approach. British English does not include periods or commas within quotation marks if they are not part of the original quotation. American English ALWAYS includes periods and commas. All American style guides agree on this. Here’s how it looks:

“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

“Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good,” said Spiderman.

Guess what? This one is easy. Colons and semicolon always go outside the quotation marks in both American and British English.

There are three things I liked best about “The Wizard of Oz”: the singing, the costumes, and the munchkins.

Yesterday, she wanted to binge-watch “Downton Abbey”; today, however, she decided on “The Golden Girls.”

On these two punctuation marks, both American and British English also agree! It’s just slightly harder because the use depends on whether or not the quoted material itself contains an question mark or exclamation point, so that is something you have to pay attention to. If so, both say to include them inside. If not, both say to put them outside.

“Aren’t you a little short for a storm trooper?” asked Princess Leia. (inside)
Is your favorite musical “Les Miserables” or “Phantom of the Opera”? (outside)

“Show me the money!” shouted Jerry Maguire. (inside)
I can’t believe you told me what happens at the end of “Avengers: Infinity War”! (outside)

One final difference between American and British English is the use of single vs double quotation marks. Americans and English do it completely opposite one another. Take a look:

AMERICAN ENGLISH: To enclose a quotation, use DOUBLE quotation marks, and to enclose a quotation within a quotation, use SINGLE quotation marks.
BRITISH ENGLISH: To enclose a quotation, use SINGLE quotation marks, and to enclose a quotation within a quotation, use DOUBLE quotation marks.

American and British rules do not always agree on how to punctuate with quotation marks. You’ll see American style in American publications and British style in British publications. If in doubt, be sure to check your style guide!

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