Whether to place a period before or after a closing quotation mark depends on whether you follow American or British style. Periods always go inside quotation marks in American (and often Canadian) style. In British (and often Australian) style, a period (or a full stop) goes inside only if the quotes contain a complete sentence.
A quick note on the use of single vs. double quotation marks: Double quotes (“ ”) are used first in American style, with single quotes reserved for quotes within quotes. British style is just the opposite. Single quotes (‘ ’) are used first, with double quotes used only for quotes within quotes. British news writing, which uses double quotes first, is an exception.
If you follow US style, always place a period before a closing quotation mark, not after.
- Rita said, “It will all work out.”
- They displace thousands and call it “progress.”
- I never know how to spell “iridescent.”
As you can see, in American usage, the period goes inside quotation marks even if it is meant to end the surrounding sentence rather than the one inside quotes.
- Correct: I am told this program is “intelligent.”
Incorrect: I am told this program is “intelligent”.
Style manuals used in American book publishing, academic writing, and journalism (such as the Chicago Manual of Style, AP Stylebook, APA Publication Manual, and MLA Handbook) all recommend placing periods inside quotation marks, regardless of whether they end the sentence inside or outside quotes. This is also the advice offered by the style guide of the Canadian Government.
If a period is part of an abbreviation appearing at the end of a quote, use just one period, not two. (The period marks the end of both the abbreviation and the sentence.)
- Correct: Maya said, “I like waking up at 5 a.m.”
Incorrect: Maya said, “I like waking up at 5 a.m.”.
Incorrect: Maya said, “I like waking up at 5 a.m..”
Place the period inside quotation marks even when you have quotes within quotes. In American usage, you would use single within double quotes, and place the period before both the single and the double closing quotation mark.
- Correct: She said, “This is not ‘progress.’”
Incorrect: She said, “This is not ‘progress’.”
Incorrect: She said, “This is not ‘progress’”.
In British style, place a period (or a full stop) before a closing quotation mark only if it is meant to end a sentence inside quotes.
- Farley said, ‘I can’t find my shoes.’
Since the quotes enclose a complete sentence, the period goes inside.
- ‘I wish’, said Farley, ‘I could find my shoes.’
Use only one period at the end of a quotation. Don’t add another period to end the surrounding sentence.
- Correct: Farley said, ‘I can’t find my shoes.’
Incorrect: Farley said, ‘I can’t find my shoes.’.
Incorrect: Farley said, ‘I can’t find my shoes’.
If quotation marks don’t contain a full sentence and the period is supposed to mark the end of the surrounding sentence, place it outside (as recommended by the New Oxford Style Manual, OUP house style, and the Australian Government’s style manual).
- He claims to be an ‘expert’.
- We poison our planet in the name of ‘development’.
- I never can spell the word ‘iridescent’.
- I don’t need your ‘help’.
Be careful with quotes within quotes in British usage. In British style, you would use double within single quotes. Where you place the period depends on whether the quotation marks contain a complete sentence.
- Correct: She said, ‘He claimed to be an “expert”.’
Incorrect: She said, ‘He claimed to be an “expert.”’
Incorrect: She said, ‘He claimed to be an “expert”’.
Other punctuation with quotes
Like periods, commas also always go inside quotation marks in American style, while in British, they go inside only if they are meant to punctuate the quoted text.
- American: “It can fly,” said Rita.
British: ‘It can fly,’ said Rita.
- American: “I wish,” said Maya, “I could fly.”
British: ‘I wish’, said Maya, ‘I could fly.’
- American: They offered “help,” which never came.
British: They offered ‘help’, which never came.
Other punctuation, such as question marks and exclamation points, goes inside quotes only if it is supposed to punctuate the quoted text, in both American and British usage. Check whether the question or exclamation is in the quotation, or whether the entire sentence is the question or exclamation.
- American: Rita asked, “Can it fly?”
British: Rita asked, ‘Can it fly?’
- American: She cried, “It can fly!”
British: She cried, ‘It can fly!’
- American: Is this your great “plan”?
British: Is this your great ‘plan’?
- American: She calls this a “plan”!
British: She calls this a ‘plan’!