It’s the Holy Grail of grammar conundrums. It’s a debate you’ve undoubtedly had over and over with your writer friends. And most importantly, it’s one of those rules we’re just plain annoyed that we don’t understand. Does that punctuation mark go inside or outside of the quotation marks?
Admit it: You don’t know the answer. And judging from the inconsistency on signs, billboards, flyers and emails we’re bombarded with daily, neither do many other people. But fellow writer, have no fear: We’re going to decode the mystery once and for all.
Periods and commas
The major style guides like MLA and AP say that for American English, periods and commas should always go inside quotation marks. (In British English, the period or comma usually goes outside the quotations.)
So your sentence should look like this: We went to see the exhibit, “Life Is Beautiful.”
Or this: The exhibit, “Life Is Beautiful,” was captivating.
Exclamation points, question marks and other punctuation
This is where it gets trickier. When you’re working with these punctuation marks, the placement in relation to the quotation mark depends on whether your punctuation governs the entire sentence or just the words in quotes.
Your sentence should look like this: I love the song, “What’s Going On?”
Or this: Don’t you love the song, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” ?
Or this: I’m so excited to see the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight”!
Or even this: She said, “I’m so excited to see the latest Batman movie!”
Just remember, double punctuation is a big no no:
I love the song, “What’s Going On?”. (No period is needed at the end!)
You are now armed with all the knowledge you need to root out this frustrating grammatical inconsistency. Go on, spread the word!