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Grammar Tips & Tidbits


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Using Punctuation with Quotation Marks — Part II


The previous issue of Grammar Tips & Tidbits addressed the use of various punctuation marks (specifically periods, commas, question marks, and exclamation points) with quotation marks. If you'd like to review the last newsletter, click here.


Today we'll continue this discussion, but this time we'll focus on how to use semicolons, colons, dashes, and parentheses with quotation marks.


Remember that the following rules apply only to American English. The British have their own guidelines, and the rules in Canada often vary depending on the location.

The guidelines below are based on those included in the tenth edition of The Gregg Reference Manual

Placement of Semicolons and Colons with Quotation Marks

Semicolons and colons are always placed outside closing quotation marks, whether double or single.


I specifically remember that Tom said, "I will be there at noon sharp"; however, he has not yet arrived.

We ordered the following items from the page titled "Condiments and Sauces": brown mustard, teriyaki sauce, duck sauce, and soy sauce.

Rod left a note on my desk that said, "Please file the following documents in the folder labeled 'Pending': the packing list for the most recent shipment, my handwritten notes regarding the shipment, and the invoice dated 1/30/09."  

Placement of Dashes with Quotation Marks

A) To indicate that a speaker's words have broken off suddenly, a dash should be placed inside the closing quotation mark.



With a trembling voice, Stacey said, "I thought you'd never call—"

B) When an entire sentence breaks off suddenly after a quotation, a dash should be placed outside the closing quotation mark.

If you don't stop asking, "Are we there yet?"—

C)  When the quotation is part of a phrase that's set off by a pair of dashes, the second dash is placed outside the closing quotation mark.

Rewind that commercial—the one with the slogan "Can you hear me now?"—so I can figure out who that actor is.

Placement of Parentheses with Quotation Marks


A) When the parenthetical element is part of the quotation, the closing parenthesis is placed inside the closing quotation mark.


I received an e-mail message from Arthur saying he would send the documents "by Monday (April 10)" unless processing was delayed.


B) When the quotation is part of the parenthetical element, the closing parenthesis is placed outside the closing quotation mark.

The house on the corner (the one you refer to as "the smelly house") has dropped in price.


In the next issue of Grammar Tips & Tidbits, we'll discuss what to do when a quotation at the end of a sentence requires a different punctuation mark inside and outside the closing quotation mark. We'll also tackle a related topic: using double punctuation at the end of a sentence.

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1.  Sabin, William A. The Gregg Reference Manual. 10th ed.
        (New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2005), 71-72.