Section 3.6

Quotation Marks

Generally avoid using quotation marks to emphasize or set off words, as in the following example:


The doctor was not “people-friendly.”

When writers use quotation marks in this way, often the wording of the sentence is poor and needs to be revised. Instead of using quotation marks, express your ideas so that the words themselves naturally carry the weight of what you want to say. For example:


The doctor showed a lack of diplomacy in his interactions with patients.

Do, however, use quotation marks when you are actually quoting someone or something. The following examples illustrate common quotation formats (see also Section 3.1.8):

She said, “The trial will begin tomorrow morning.”

“The trial will begin tomorrow morning,” she said.

In American usage (which differs from British practices), commas and periods always go inside closing quotation marks, regardless of whether the punctuation is actually part of the quoted material. For example:

The paralegal called the case a “terrifying, interminable debacle.”

The paralegal called the case a “terrifying, interminable debacle,” but she said she thought we would win.

Question marks and exclamation points work differently, however. They appear inside the quotation marks only if they are part of the actual quotation.

He asked, “Is the lock broken?”

“Is the lock broken?” he asked.


What did she mean when she referred to “the unethical dealings of our local government”?


He exclaimed, “Don’t be late!”

“Don’t be late!” he exclaimed.


How dare you call me a “greedy sycophant”!

If a semicolon immediately follows a quotation in a sentence, place the semicolon outside the quotation marks, as in:

The company publicly questioned its rival’s “multiple conflicts of interest”; however, it declined to identify those conflicts in any detail.