“Does the comma go before or after the quotation marks?”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this question, both in the office and from friends looking for a little “punctuation verification.” Believe me, I don’t mind being asked; there is nothing worse than coming across a simple punctuation error on a professional blog or in a memo sent off to a client. I promise it’s always better to ask, especially when you are representing your client and/or your company.
With that being said, in honor of National Punctuation Day, I wanted to share a couple of the most important (and easiest) punctuation rules to follow:
- Commas and periods always precede closing quotation marks, end of story.
- Question marks can appear before or after the quotation marks. If the question mark is part of the quote, it goes inside; if the question belongs to the entire sentence, it belongs after the quotation marks.
- Latin abbreviations i.e. and e.g. should always include periods after each letter. It’s a good practice to include a comma after the abbreviations, although it’s not imperative. Remember: consistency is key.
- It’s and its mean two different things. Include the apostrophe if you mean “it is” or “it has”; drop it if you’re trying to show possession.
- Colons and semicolons always follow closing quotation marks. See the previous bullet for an example.
- While we’re on it, don’t misuse semicolons. They should only be used to separate independent clauses or when a sentence contains several commas.
- Serial commas – the commas before the conjunction (and, or, but) in a series of at least three items – can be used or skipped. This is another instance of consistency being the important aspect. If you use a serial comma one time in a memo, use it every time. Try and keep it consistent for everything you send your clients as well.
Punctuation is not fun for everyone, but it sure is important. Keep these rules in mind, and check back in with your resident punctuation-crazy coworker whenever you’re unsure of a rule. Remember: it’s always better to ask before sending than to lose credibility among clients and coworkers for misplacing a comma.
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