Punctuating Quotations

As I was marking a fellow student’s in-class exercise a few weeks ago, it became clear to me that people who are in their third year of university are still struggling with how to correctly punctuate quotations.


For about five weeks this semester in Sub-Editing, we complete a short, five-minute exercise in our weekly tutorial. These exercises are designed to test our attention to detail and our knowledge of punctuation, spelling, and grammar, among other things.

The exercises are open book, which means you can look at any notes that you have taken, or any of the tutorial exercises and handouts that we have previously received in the course.

Our first exercise was punctuating quotations, and, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the student whose exercise I was marking has still not grasped the concept of where to put the comma or full stop in full and partial quotations.

Example A: “If you are quoting someone in full, the punctuation goes inside the quotation marks,” she said.

Example B: However, if you are only partially quoting someone, then “the punctuation goes outside the quotation marks”.

Example C: This is because a “partial quotation does not make a sentence”, whereas a full quotation does.

In Example A, the quotation forms a full sentence, and would make sense standing alone, which is why the punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.

In Example B and Example C, the quotations do not form full sentences, and would not make sense standing alone, which is why the punctuation goes outside the quotation marks.

The even more confusing part comes when the partial quotation has punctuation marks itself.

Example D: Partial quotations can “have their own punctuation, but still not form a whole sentence”.

In Example D, the quotation itself needs punctuation to separate the independent clause from the dependent clause, but as it is only a partial quotation, you still need to close the sentence outside of the quotation marks.

How to correctly carry the quotation through several paragraphs is another skill in itself. If you are including a long quote from one person, then you open the quotation marks on every new paragraph, but only close the quotation marks on the last paragraph.

Example E: The blogger wrote about punctuating quotations in her post.

“Some students still struggle with how to correctly carry quotations through several paragraphs.

“The trick is to not close the first paragraph’s quotation, and to still use opening quotation marks at the beginning of the following paragraph.

“In the last paragraph, when the quotation is finished, use closing quotation marks.”

Leaving a quotation open at the end of a paragraph, and using open quotation marks on the following paragraph tells your reader that the quotation continues across several paragraphs, as shown in Example E.

Hopefully this has solidified your quotation punctuating abilities.


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