Punctuation of Quotations

Shorthand: "pq"

In all academic writing,

Quotations must have appropriate punctuation.

In order to determine how to punctuate the phrase that comes before a quotation, you need to know whether the phase is an independent clause.  Here, you have three options:

1. When the quotation is merged into a clause, no punctuation is necessary to divide them.

Roosevelt spoke of December 7, 1941, as "a day that will live in infamy."


2. If the quotation is preceded by a form of a word like say, reply, or answer, that word is followed by a comma.

She knows she is no longer safe, saying, "I feared for my Safety in this wicked House" (28).


3. If a complete sentence or independent clause precedes the quotation, a colon is the appropriate mark of punctuation.

She knows she is no longer safe: "I feared for my Safety in this wicked House" (28).

Also make sure that you place quotation marks correctly with respect to other punctuation marks and with citations.

1.  The final period or comma goes inside the quotation marks, even if it is not a part of the quoted material, unless the quotation is followed by a citation.  If a citation in parentheses follows the quotation, the period follows the citation.  If a superscript footnote number is used, it follows the period and the quotation marks. 

a) The Portland vase is "blue porcelain," according to Compson (435).

Comma is within the quotation marks; the period follows the citation.

b) Macbeth says, "Life's but a walking shadow" (5.5.24).

Citation follows the quotation marks; period follows the citation. Note: The MLA Handbook recommends the use of Arabic numerals rather than Roman numerals for designating acts and scenes in plays. However, some instructors still prefer Roman numerals. Check with your instructor if you are uncertain which to use.

c) As E. H. Carr has written, "The serious historian is the one who recognizes the historically conditioned character of all values, not the one who claims for his own values an objectivity beyond history."1

2. A colon or semicolon is placed outside the quotation marks (regardless of whether or not it exists in the quoted material).

a) Correct:

Roberts (137) mentions "the divine right of kings"; the phrase did not become current in English until the late seventeenth century.

b) Incorrect:

Mr. B says that Pamela "may be thawed by kindness;" (180).

Even though the semicolon is present in the sentence quoted, it should not be in the quotation.

Correct: Mr. B says that Pamela "may be thawed by kindness" (180).

3. A question mark, exclamation point, or dash is placed within the quotation marks when it is part of the quoted material.

Otherwise it is placed outside the quotation marks.

a) "How do I love thee?" asks the sonnet. "Let me count the ways."

The first quotation is a question; the question mark is part of it.

b) What is the meaning of the expression "eschew obfuscation"?

The quotation is not a question; the question mark goes outside the quotation to indicate that the whole sentence is the question.

c) There is great pathos in King Lear's cry, "O reason not the need!" (2.4.259).

An exclamation point within the quotation is followed by quotation marks, then by a parenthetical citation. The period after the citation ends the sentence.

4. Do not place any mark of punctuation inside the quotation marks at the beginning of a quoted phrase, and do not use an ellipsis(...) at the beginning of the quotation.

a) Incorrect:

King Lear refers to his daughter Goneril as a "?detested kite?" and as "?wolvish?" (1.4.253, 259).

b) Correct:

King Lear refers to his daughter Goneril as a "detested kite" and as "wolvish" (1.4.253, 259).

For more information on quotations, refer to Using Sources and Quotations.

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