Quoting Can Be Such Sweet Sorrow…An Article by Mary Deal

Inside the End Quotes

by

Mary Deal

So much confusion exists about what goes inside or outside of the end quotes in dialogue.

I digress here to say that the only sentences that should be included in quotation marks are something that someone said. Quotation marks should not be used to draw attention to anything other than dialogue. Considering dialogue, quotes can also be used to set off a repeated portion of something another person said. An example:

~ His response to revealing the secret was “deep and dark.”

Now consider this sentence:

~ San Francisco is known as “The City by the Bay.”

In this example, I would immediately wonder who said that. Yet, it isn’t written as dialogue. The correct way to set off a title or information other than dialogue is to present it in italics.

San Francisco is known as The City by the Bay.

Having clarified that, what follows is the correct positioning of the end quotes on various forms of dialogue.

All punctuation, whether statement, question of exclamation, belongs inside the end quotes.

“Where did you go?” she asked.

In the above sentence, the question mark must follow the question, then the end quotes. Even though we use a question mark instead of a comma, the sentence continues with she asked.

“We went for the movie first.”

“I don’t believe it!”

“I told you, I did it,” she said.

Notice in the last sentence above that the sentence wasn’t complete until after the word said. A comma was used after it, then the end quotes. The variation from the first sentence above with the question mark is that a question mark always follows a question, regardless there is more to the sentence..

Then we get into a person relating something someone else said. That’s where you find single quotes inside double quotes.

“When she became obstinate, her mother said, ‘Go to your room!’”

In this sentence of dialogue, the sentence within a sentence – Go to your room – is set off with single quotation marks. Notice that the exclamation point ending the dialogue goes inside both sets of end quotes: The exclamation point, then the single end quote to end the dialogue within dialogue, and then the double end quote signifying the final end to the entire string of dialogue.

The exclamation point belongs with the string Go to your room, so belongs inside the single end quote. In the cases where an exclamation point should end the embodying string of dialogue, the exclamation point would be placed between the single end quote and the double one.

“I hated that he quietly said ‘It’s over’!”

Notice here, too, the lack of a period after the repeated dialogue. Someone else said It’s over but it is not the end of the sentence that is being spoken in anger. So the exclamation point belongs after the single quote mark but inside the double end quotes.

For most writers, the simple rule is that all punctuation goes inside the end quotes. When it becomes more complicated is when you begin to quote dialogue where one person is telling what another said. Then many more variations exist.

Much to any writer’s chagrin, instruction for proper usage of quotation marks could fill many pages. It’s wise to have a reputable book of punctuation nearby and seek out the exact examples and solutions you may need for your prose.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

About Mike Angley

Mike Angley is the award-winning author of the Child Finder Trilogy. He retired as a Colonel from the Air Force in 2007 following a 25-year career as a Special Agent with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). He held 13 different assignments throughout the world, among which were five tours as a Commander of various units, to include two Air Force Squadrons and a Wing. He is a seasoned criminal investigator and a counterintelligence and counterterrorism specialist. In his last assignment, he was Commander of OSI Region 8 with responsibility for all of Air Force Space Command. He’s fond of saying, “If it entered or exited Earth’s atmosphere, I had a dog in the fight!”
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