Commas always go inside quotation marks in American (and often Canadian) style. In British (and often Australian) style, commas go inside or outside depending on whether they are meant to punctuate the text within quotes or the surrounding sentence.
A quick note on the use of single vs. double quotes: In American style, double quotation marks (“ ”) are used first, with single quotation marks used for quotes within quotes. In contrast, in British style, single quotes (‘ ’) are used first, with double quotes reserved for quotes within quotes. An exception is British news writing, where double quotes are used instead.
In US style, always place a comma before a closing quotation mark, and not after.
- “We still have a chance,” said Rita.
- If this is “progress,” I prefer stagnation.
- She used the word “queen,” which seemed appropriate.
Place a comma inside quotation marks even if it is meant to punctuate the surrounding sentence rather than the text in quotes.
- Correct: They call it “intelligent,” but can it think?
Incorrect: They call it “intelligent”, but can it think?
Style manuals followed in American academic writing, journalism, and book publishing (such as the Chicago Manual of Style, AP Stylebook, APA Publication Manual, and MLA Handbook) all recommend placing commas inside quotation marks. This is also the style generally followed in Canadian writing (as noted by the Translation Bureau of the Government of Canada), unless a publication specifically follows British style or a different house style.
Place a comma inside a quote within a quote. In US style, you would use single within double quotes, and the comma would go inside both.
- Correct: “They say this program is ‘intelligent,’” she said.
Incorrect: “They say this program is ‘intelligent’,” she said.
Incorrect: “They say this program is ‘intelligent’”, she said.
If you follow British style, place a comma before a closing quotation mark only if it is meant to punctuate the text inside quotes. If it is supposed to punctuate the surrounding sentence, place it outside.
- ‘We still have a chance,’ she said.
The comma represents the period (or full stop) that would have appeared at the end of the quote, which is a complete sentence. It therefore belongs to the quoted text and goes inside quotes.
- He offered ‘help’, which never came.
The comma belongs to the larger sentence and not the word inside quotes.
- I love the word ‘iridescent’, although I can never spell it right.
This is the style outlined by the New Oxford Style Manual (the style guide of Oxford University Press), as well as the style manual of the Australian Government. Be careful, since it can get tricky with direct speech. A comma that ends a quotation goes inside quotation marks, but one that simply separates the speaker from the speech goes outside.
- ‘I think we still have a chance,’ she said.
The comma marks the end of the quotation and goes inside quotes.
- ‘I think’, she said, ‘we still have a chance.’
The comma doesn’t belong to the quoted text. It separates the speaker from the speech and belongs to the surrounding sentence.
In British style, don’t place a comma inside quotation marks unless it belongs to the quoted text.
- Correct: They call it ‘intelligent’, but can it think?
Incorrect: They call it ‘intelligent,’ but can it think?
Be careful with commas with quotes within quotes, which can get confusing in British usage. In British style, you would use double quotes within single quotes. The comma can go either after the closing double quote or the closing single quote depending on what it is punctuating: the text inside single quotes or the larger sentence.
- Correct: ‘They call this “progress”,’ she said.
punctuating the text inside single quotes
- Correct: ‘Their “progress”’, she said, ‘is anything but.’
punctuating the surrounding sentence
Other punctuation with quotation marks
Like commas, periods also always go inside quotation marks in American style, while in British, they go inside only if the sentence ends within quotes.
- American: He said, “I can help.”
British: He said, ‘I can help.’
- American: You know how he likes to “help.”
British: You know how he likes to ‘help’.
Other punctuation marks like question marks and exclamation points go inside quotes only if they are meant to punctuate the text inside quotes, in both American and British usage. You must check meaning: is the question or exclamation part of the quotation, or is the entire sentence a question or an exclamation?
- American: Maya asked, “Does it matter?”
British: Maya asked, ‘Does it matter?’
- American: Farley cried, “Help!”
British: Farley cried, ‘Help!’
- American: Would you call that “progress”?
British: Would you call that ‘progress’?
- American: They say it’s “intelligent”!
British: They say it’s ‘intelligent’!