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August 06, 2021

How to Use Quotation Marks: Rules with Commas, Periods, and More

As you’ve probably noticed, quotation marks are an extremely common set of punctuation marks. Continue your journey to grammatical excellence, and follow along with this guide to brush up on the rules of using quotation marks.

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Rules for Using Quotation Marks

Quotation marks are most often used to mark something that is spoken or, in other words, to designate a direct quote. That is, they display something that’s been said, word for word.

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  • Example: He said, “I’m going to be a couple minutes late to class today.”

When a sentence merely summarizes another’s speech, or uses what’s called an indirect quote, quotation marks are not necessary.

  • Example: He said that he was going to be a couple minutes late to class today.

Quotation Marks with Commas, Periods, and Other Punctuation

As in the example above, a comma is used before quotation marks to introduce a direct quote. If the description of the quote’s speaker is placed after the quotation, a comma is always placed within the quotation marks.

  • Example: “I’m going to be a couple minutes late to class today,” he said.

In American English, commas and periods should be placed within the quotation marks as long as they do not change the meaning of the quotation. In instances where punctuation would change the meaning of the quotation—that is, when the punctuation, such as a question mark or exclamation point, does not belong to the quotation—it should be placed outside of the quotation marks.

  • Example: He asked, “Is it okay if I’m a couple of minutes late to class today?”
  • Example: Does he always say “I’m going to be late to class today”?


It can sometimes be tricky to remember when to capitalize words within quotation marks. To keep it straight, follow these two simple rules: First, when quoting a full, complete sentence, the first word of that quote should always be capitalized. Alternatively, when a quote only references a fragment of a quote, a phrase, or part of a sentence, the first word of the quote does not need to be capitalized. This includes cases when a quote is interrupted by a description.

  • Example: He said, “I’m running behind and I’m going to be late to class.”
  • Example: “I’m running behind,” he said, “and I’m going to be late to class.”
  • Example: He’s always saying he’s “running behind” and so will be late.

Other Uses for Quotation Marks

Quotation marks aren’t only used to capture spoken words. You might also run into, or want to use, these other uses of quotation marks:

  • Titles: While titles of longer works (e.g., full-length books, music albums, TV shows, and films) and publications (e.g., newspapers, magazines, and journals) are often written in italics, shorter pieces found within these longer works—like songs, poems, articles, and chapters—are typically written in quotation marks.
    • Example: Calvin thought that Purple Rain was Prince’s best album. However, “1999” was his favorite song.
  • Scare Quotes: Also known as air quotes, sneer quotes, or shudder quotes, scare quotes are put around a word or phrase to note atypical usage or disapproval. Oftentimes, scare quotes are used with a negative or sarcastic tone that distances the person using the scare quotes from the person (real or hypothetical) that they’re quoting.
    • Example: Calvin claims that only “real” Prince fans understand the brilliance of his earlier, less acclaimed work.
  • Single Quotes: Single quotation marks are used to identity quotes inside of quotes.
    • Example: “‘1999’ is my favorite song,” Calvin said.

All these uses and rules of quotation marks can be a lot to keep in your head while you’re writing. However, with practice you will be able to master this commonly confused aspect of grammar over time.

As you’re getting up to speed on these and other grammar basics, a virtual writing assistant like Microsoft Editor can help you catch all your mistakes, and help ensure that your writing is clean, clear, and communicates your very best ideas.

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