quotations: punctuation with quotation marks

(A similar topic is discussed in French in the article ponctuation avec les guillemets fermants.)

The guidelines below explain how to combine other punctuation marks with opening and closing quotation marks.

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Punctuation before opening quotation marks

Place a comma after words introducing short quotations.

  • A wise rabbi once said, “Good deeds are better than wise sayings.”
  • Jennifer asked, “Would you like to have dinner with me?”

The comma can be omitted if the quotation or question follows a form of the verb to be, is in apposition to a noun, or follows the natural flow of syntax in the sentence.

  • What he actually said was “Play it, Sam.”
  • Did you like the candidate’s answer to the question “Why do you want to work for our company?”
  • She asked us to “rephrase the question to make it less offensive.”

The comma can also be omitted if the quotation is introduced by verbs of saying:

  • He said “Have a nice day,” fired a few shots, and ran.

To introduce a longer quotation, a colon may be used after a complete sentence.

  • Sir John A. Macdonald explained his involvement in politics this way: “I don’t care for office for the sake of money, but for the sake of power, and for the sake of carrying out my own views of what is best for the country.”

A comma or colon is not required when introducing a quotation with the word that.

  • Margaret Atwood once remarked that “fiction is not necessarily about what you know; it’s about how you feel.”

Punctuation with closing quotation marks

Periods and commas

Canadian practice favours placing the period or comma inside the closing quotation marks:

  • “I am not anti-American,” stated Diefenbaker. “But I am strongly pro-Canadian.”

This holds true even if the quoted material is not a full sentence:

  • For Naomi Klein, democracy means more than the right to vote; inherent in democracy is “the right to live in dignity.”

Note: Although closing punctuation is normally placed within closing quotation marks, there are two exceptions to this rule.

  1. When a high degree of accuracy is required (e.g. in legal contexts), it may be preferable to place any punctuation that is not part of the original document outside the quotation marks.
    • For the purposes of the Access to Information Act, a record is defined as follows: “any documentary material, regardless of medium or form”.
  2. When using in-text notes, also known as parenthetical citations (i.e. references to author and page number or date, in parentheses after a quotation), place the closing punctuation after the note instead of before the quotation marks:
    • Recently researchers have examined the sociological aspects of tourism and people’s travel habits in the past century: “Scholars have attempted to deconstruct tourism by asking why sites and practices become designated as culturally desirable to ’do,’ (such as Niagara Falls, the Canadian Rockies, Peggy’s Cove or the West Edmonton Mall), and others … do not” (Dubinsky 1986).

Colons and semicolons

Colons and semicolons belonging to the sentence containing the quotation always go outside closing quotation marks.

  • Canadian author Alice Munro has been called “our Chekhov”: her short stories focus on epiphany rather than plot.
  • Calgary is sometimes called “Cowtown”; the nickname reflects the city’s history as a centre for livestock trade.

Note: If, in the original text, the quoted material itself ends with a semicolon or a colon, the semicolon or colon should be replaced with a period, a comma or ellipsis points.

Question marks and exclamation points

Question marks and exclamation points may go before or after the closing quotation mark.

Place them before the closing quotation mark if the quoted material is a question or an exclamation:

  • Marcus asked, “Have you seen my Shih Tzu?”
  • Samina exclaimed, “You made lamb stew again!”

However, if the entire sentence is a question or exclamation, place the end punctuation after the closing quotation mark:

  • What Canadian writer referred to Canada as “the unknown country”?
  • Stop telling me to “relax”!

Note: When a statement or question ends with a quotation that is itself a question or exclamation, no additional end punctuation is needed after the quotation marks.

  • Isn’t it time we stopped asking “How much does it cost?”

Punctuation with interrupted quotations

The words introducing a quotation (e.g. she said, he asked) are known as the “annunciatory clause.” When the annunciatory clause is placed in the middle of the quotation, the punctuation to be used depends on where the quotation is interrupted.

Quotation interrupted in the middle of a sentence

When the annunciatory clause falls in the middle of a sentence, use a comma and closing quotation mark before it, and a comma and opening quotation mark after it.

  • “It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw,” Emily Carr once wrote, “not because she is Canada but because she’s something sublime that you were born into, some great rugged power that you are a part of.”

Quotation interrupted at the end of a sentence

When the annunciatory clause falls at the end of a sentence, use a comma and closing quotation mark before it, and a period and closing quotation mark after it.

  • “We have no absolute rights among us,” Sir Wilfrid Laurier once said. “The rights of each man end precisely at the point where they encroach upon the rights of others.”

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