QUOTATIONS - DIALOGUE OR CONVERSATION: Each person’s words, no matter how brief, are placed in a separate paragraph, with quotation marks at the beginning and the end of each person’s speech:
“Will you go?”
PLACEMENT WITH OTHER PUNCTUATION: We prefer writers follow these long-established Modern Language Association (MLA) / AP style rules:
—The period and the comma always go within the quotation marks, without additional spaces.
—The dash, the semicolon, the question mark and the exclamation point go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted matter only. They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence.
MULTIPLE CLAUSES WITH QUOTATION MARKS: When a quotation is modified by a citation ("he said," "she thought," "they pondered," etcetera) do not capitalize the first word following the quote unless that word happens to be a proper name.
"Why did you do that?" asked Jill.
"I'm not really sure," the stranger pondered, "but I think we will both know why in a minute!"
"I'm not really sure why I did that," the stranger mused. "Maybe we will both find out why I'm behaving so strangely."
"I'm not sure why," Jane replied.
Placement of commas within quotation marks is done when there are two clauses (statements) and one is dependent on the other. For example:
"Instead of telling him what to do, why did you not help him?" asked Jill's mother.
The first part of the sentence, Instead of telling him what to do is a dependent clause because it relies on the second part, why did you not help him? in order to make sense. Therefore, the second part is an independent clause because it could stand alone and still be logical. This revised example shows proper use of commas with quotation marks (Note: sentence structure changes appropriately):
"Instead of telling him what to do," Jill's mother began, "Why did you not help him?"
Placement of exclamation points and question marks also vary with the sentence, depending on what is being focused on. Consider these two examples:
Did she just say, "I left Jack alone at the well"? and Frantically, Jill just said, "I left Jack alone at the well!"
Both of these examples show people talking but the focus in the first example is not on what the person being talked about said, but rather the question asked by the speaker, hence the exclamation point outside the quotation mark. The second example shows a focus on what the speaker specifically said, therefore, the exclamation point is inside the quotation mark.
Single quotation marks are also used, but when it refers to another person's statement. In those instances, single quotation marks are placed around the innermost direct quote and alternate with double quotation marks. For example:
"John F. Kennedy said, 'Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.'"
In that example, the writer is speaking to someone, shown with double quotation marks, but within that direct quote is someone else's quote. Therefore, single quotation marks are needed for distinction between who is speaking and what words are not the speaker's.
NOTE: We are aware that the British style differs from American/AP/MLA style in the placement of quotation marks with other punctuation. The British style makes a lot of sense in general but is considered non-standard use in American publishing. If you use British style punctuation, realize that some editors may feel obligated to manually correct your work to match AP style guidelines (and probably feel unhappy for having to do so) while others may decide to leave your punctuation alone.