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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Punctuating Close Quotes in Four Easy Steps: Part IV

Today guest blogger Boyd Sutton is finishing up his series on punctuating with close quotes. The topic is "Closing Quotes with Question Marks and Exclamation Points." I like that he has obviously read my The Frugal Editor. (-: " If you didn't catch the first three installment, just scroll down.

By Boyd Sutton

Punctuating Close Quotes with Question Marks and Exclamation Points

How you punctuate your question marks and exclamation points depends on context. Both of these marks are inserted before the close quotation mark if they are part of the quotation (that is, if the quotation is a question or an exclamatory statement), but after the close quotation mark if the entire sentence is a question or exclamatory statement.

Wrong: He asked, “Why wait until tomorrow”?

Right: He asked, “Why wait until tomorrow?”

Wrong: She wailed, “Not again”!

Right: She wailed, Not again!”

But, when a statement inside quotes is only part of the sentence and the entire sentence is a question or exclamation, the marks come after the close quote—even if the quote itself might be a question or exclamation.

Wrong: Did she really say, “Can you ever forgive me?”

Right: Did she really say, “Can you ever forgive me”?

Wrong: How dare you call me “strumpet!”

Right: How dare you call me “strumpet”!


1.Commas and periods always come before close quotes. Always!

2. Colons and semicolons always come after close quotes. Always!

3/ Question Marks and exclamation points may come before of after close quotes, depending on context.

There are many, more esoteric, rules for punctuation. I’ll discuss those in future editions of this blog or in the print edition of the Wisconsin Writers Journal. The basics in the last couple of blogs on The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor blog are important and easy to remember and account for at least half of the errors I see in submissions. As an editor, I’m “easy”; I just fix them. But, get them wrong in a query letter, a book proposal, or a submission to a newspaper or magazine and you give an editor or agent an easy excuse to reject your manuscript. I think that's why Carolyn keeps talking about using zero tolerance editing before you these documents; they are your first contacts with the gatekeepers who can make or break your career.

Boyd Sutton is producer and editor of the Wisconsin Writers’ Journal, a quarterly publication of the Wisconsin Regional Writers Association . His articles, essays, and short stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines. He is a freelance editor and has won many writing awards, including the Jade Ring, Wisconsin’s most prestigious writing award, for his essay, “Owning Your Own Time—Managing Your Retirement.” He may be reached at This article first appeared in the 2008 winter edition of the Wisconsin Writers’ Journal.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at Learn more about her other authors' aids at, where writers will find lists and other helps on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog.

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