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Punctuation—Where, When, Why, and How to Use It

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Quotation marks
Quotation marks are used most often with dialogue. They can be used for some other purposes, but this should be done sparingly. Quotation marks are not used to indicate thought. The exception would be when characters communicate telepathically, in which case a combination of italics (indicating the words are thought and not spoken) and quotation marks (indicating speech between characters) is used.

Commas and periods (when appropriate) are always placed inside the closing quotation mark. Question marks and exclamation marks go inside the closing quotation mark when they are part of the quoted material; however, they are placed outside of the closing quotation mark when they refer to the surrounding sentence rather than the material in quotes.

Usage
1. Direct quotations

Example 1: “I want cheesecake,” Sylva said.
Example 2: Sylva said, “I want cheesecake.”
Example 3: Can I have cheesecake?” Sylva asked.
Example 4: Sylva asked, “Can I have cheesecake?”
Example 5: “Oh my God, cheesecake!” Sylva screamed.
Example 6: Sylva screamed, “Oh my God, cheesecake!”
Example 7: “I think”—Sylva opened the box—”we should have cheesecake.” (Narrative interruption)
Example 8: “I think,” Sylva said, “we should have cheesecake.” (Attributive interruption)

2. To indicate irony

Example: His “medicine” made her sicker. (Exception: do not use quotes if preceded by “so-called” or “namely”)

3. To indicate a word used questionably or with meaning beyond the denotation

Example: Darlene arrived with her “friend.”

4. Can be used in place of italics to indicate word used as a word, instead of what it usually references (or a letter)

Example 1: The word “book” has four letters.
Example 2: Is there an “E” or an “I” in “bistro”?

Exceptions
1. When question marks and exclamation points refer to the surrounding sentence rather than the material in quotes, the question mark and exclamation point go outside the closing quotation mark.

Example: Are you attending the seminar titled “Punctuation—What, Where, When, Why, and How to Use It”?

2. Quotation marks aren’t used around indirect quotations.
Example: He said (that) he hated cheesecake.

3. Semicolons and colons, when adjacent to quotation marks, always go outside quotation marks.

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7 comments

I felt like I was back in English class! These were great refreshers, some rules I wasn’t even familar with!

Thank you for the refresher course. I am a casual writer and probably break these rules frequently. It must drive you crazy!

I was always told never to put a comma before the word ‘and’ so it’s interesting to learn that’s not always the case!

I think I need to go back to English class!! I have to! lol. This helped me to remember this important things

This topic can’t be communicated enough! It is crazy how many mistakes are made… (I don’t exclude myself here :))

Thank you for sharing! It is so useful. I thought i was good at punctuation but realise i get confused with semi-colons and don’t know the other uses for others x

After leaving school,I have never really payed attention to the way i write and all the grammar rules. But ever since I have started writing again, I feel like I need to go to the library to get back all those grammar rules books. So thanks for this post, it helped me a lot.

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