Author/Creation: Krystal Hernandez, August 2009.
Summary: Discusses the three different kinds of end punctuation (period, question mark, and exclamation mark). Discusses end punctuation and citation.
Learning Objectives: To identify the three basic ending punctuations and demonstrate how each is used in writing. To explain the rules and exceptions of the placement of ending punctuations in specific situations. To punctuate sentences that include cited material (quoted, paraphrased, or summarized) correctly.
There are three basic ending punctuations in writing: periods, exclamation marks and question marks. Periods are used to end a completed statement, while exclamation and question marks help define a sentence’s purpose. Let’s consider the following three sentences that demonstrate how these ending punctuations are used.
The Period (.)
I have homework.
Using a period indicates you are making a statement, giving a command, or asking an indirect question.
The Question Mark (?)
Do I have homework?
Using a question mark indicates you are asking a question.
The Exclamation Mark (!)
I have homework!
Using an exclamation mark indicates the expression of particular emotions. Exclamation marks can represent excitement, shock, fear, warning, or other strong emotions.
End Punctuation and Quotation Marks in Informal Writing
If you’re writing an informal document (e.g., an email to a friend), you may need to use quotation marks to signal that you’re quoting something that someone said or to indicate words that are being used in a special way. For instance, you may want to indicate a word is being used ironically by putting it in quotation marks (e.g., That new employee is quite “busy.”)
Let’s talk about each of the end punctuations and quotation marks.
The basic rule of thumb for using quotation marks with end punctuation is that periods always go inside closing quotation marks, and question marks and exclamation marks may go either inside or outside the quotation marks, depending on the situation.
Quotation with a Period
When a sentence ends with quotation marks (whether they indicate a quotation or the use of irony), the period is included before the end quotation mark.
The principal said that my son was “disrespectful and academically unfocused.”
Quotations and Questions
If the question is part of a quotation (or the question is the entire quotation), then the question mark appears before the end quotation marks. No other end punctuation is needed.
Quoted Question. Mr. Weinstein asked, “Does anyone know how to navigate the school’s website?”
If the quotation is a sentence within your question (as in the example below, where the writer is questioning what the newsman said), then the question mark will appear after the end quotation mark. No other punctuation is needed.
Questioned Quote. Did the newsman say, “The CEO of the company G.T.E was arrested for defrauding its shareholders”?
Quotations and Exclamations
Similar to the rules above, if the exclamation is part of a quotation that ends the sentence, then the exclamation mark is placed before the end quotation. No other end punctuation is needed.
Quoted Shout. He shouted, “Watch out!”
However, if the exclamation belongs to the writer, and not the original source, then the exclamation mark is included after the end quotation mark. Notice in the example below that it’s the writer who’s expressing excitement about getting a raise. No other end punctuation is needed.
Shouted Quote. My boss finally said, “You’re getting a raise”!
End Punctuation when Using Source Material in Formal Writing
In formal writing situations (e.g., a research paper or researched report), you most likely will use a formal documentation style (like MLA or APA) which means you’ll follow some special rules about how and where the end punctuation is placed. In most formal business and academic writing situations, you will need to cite source material using the documentation style of your discipline (or the one your instructor requires). And, there are some special rules you’ll need to follow in terms of how and where the end punctuation is placed. Indeed, most documentation styles have different rules concerning all punctuation, especially ending punctuation.
Let’s look at examples from the two most common documentation styles.
APA Documentation Style
For a more comprehensive discussion of APA documentation style, see our APA Quick Reference Guide or the APA Manual. In this section we’ll discuss how to handle end punctuation and short quotations, long quotations, quotations within quotations, and paraphrase and summary in APA style.
When using quotation marks, you quote a specific passage or phrase word-for-word from a source that is either written or oral. When you are citing a quotation in APA documentation style, short quotations (which contain less than 40 words) have the end punctuation placed after the citation.
Proctor (2003) stressed that “it is important that at least 70% of the universities in the U.S should provide hands-on instruction on molecular research to students who specialize in biochemistry” (p. 77).
Notice that four elements are included in the in-text citation for a direct quotation in APA: the author’s name, the year, a pair of quotation marks, and the page or paragraph number. The period generally follows the final parenthetical element in the sentence. A fifth element for a complete citation is the inclusion of a corresponding reference entry on the reference page.
APA defines long quotations as quotations that include 40 or more words. In APA style, end punctuations are placed before the citation in block quotations. But notice that a block quotation requires no quotation marks—the special indentation signals that the material is word-for-word from the text.
In the book Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s depiction of the character Fitzwilliam Darcy set the mood of the book’s theme of misconceptions and judgments:
The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend. (p. 100)
Quotation within a Quotation
When you need to place a quotation inside of a quotation, you would use single quotations to set off the inside quotation. Single quotations represent the quote inside the double quotations.
According to Samson (2009), “the military defenses of late have failed to deter any abroad threats, especially among the waters. These particular threats have been named ‘over sea sabotages’ by most military officials” (p. 24).
Notice that the phrase “over sea sabotages” is the quotation inside another quotation. Inside quotations use single quotation marks instead of double. If “over sea sabotages” appeared at the end of the quote, then the quotation marks will follow the single quotation mark. The end punctuation will still remain after the citation.
According to Samson (2009), “the military defenses have failed to defer any abroad threats. These threats have been named ‘over sea sabotages’” (p. 24).
Writers may wish to review the secondary sources section of the APA Quick Reference Guide for information about how to cite secondary sources (when an author of an article cites another author’s research) for how to correctly format those sources.
Paraphrase and Summary
Just as when you are citing a direct quotation, summarized and paraphrased sentences in APA have the end punctuation after the citation.
Apparently, there was too much chaos in the court to depict the defendant properly in an official court drawing (Jones, 2009).
In APA style, paraphrases and summaries don’t generally include page numbers, but the author’s name and year are included.
MLA Documentation Style
For a more comprehensive discussion of MLA documentation style, see our MLA Quick Reference Guide or the MLA Manual for Writers of Research Papers. In this section we’ll discuss how to handle end punctuation and short quotations, long quotations, quotations within quotations, and paraphrase and summary in MLA style.
When using quotation marks, you quote a specific passage or phrase word-for-word from a source that is either written or oral. When you are citing a quotation in MLA documentation style, short prose quotations (which take up less than 4 lines in the text) have the end punctuation placed after the citation. Unlike in APA, short and long quotations in MLA are defined by the number of lines in the text they take up. Short quotations are less than 4 lines, while long quotations occupy 4 lines or more in the text.
In the first press release since the incident, Jackson’s lawyer asked, “Why were the proper authorities not notified after the incident and why has the media failed to mention it?” (Roberts 10).
Notice that three elements are included in the citation for a direct quote in MLA: the author’s name, a pair of quotation marks, and the page or paragraph number. The period follows the last closing parentheses of the citation. A fourth element, a corresponding entry on the works cited page is required for the citation to be complete.
MLA defines long quotations as quotations that include more than 4 lines. In MLA style, end punctuations are placed before the citation in block quotations.
The witness took the stand and recalled the events of the night of June 7, 2005:
I was walking alone to my car after a movie. It was late and I had parked far away from the theatre. While I pulled out of the lot, I noticed a little red bag on the corner of the road. I would not have noticed it if I didn’t see it move. I hesitated a minute because I was unsure of what I saw. When I saw the bag move again, I got out of the car. I immediately looked around to see if anyone was around. No one was there. I suddenly felt something hit me on the back of my head. That was the last thing I remember. I don’t know what happened to me! (Smith 9085)
Quotation within a Quotation
Like APA, MLA uses single quotation marks to represent a quotation inside a quotation.
Patel indicates that “the average high school in the U.S. will lose at least 5% of its study body to drunk driving while another 15% will be charged with ‘driving under the influence’” (60).
Writers may wish to review the secondary sources section of the MLA Quick Reference Guide for information about how to cite secondary sources (when an author of an article cites another author’s research) for how to correctly format those sources.
Paraphrase and Summary
Just as when you are citing a direct quote, summarized and paraphrased sentences in MLA have the end punctuation after the citation.
Because of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, a whole new approach to film and sound was adopted by directors (Smith 50).
Peck, F. (2007). End punctuation. uOttawa, University of Ottawa, Canada. http://www.uottawa.ca/academic/arts/writcent/hypergrammar/endpunct.html
Perrin, R. (2009). Pocket guide to APA style (3rd ed.). Boston: Cengage Learning.
Nordquist, R. (2009). End punctuation: Periods, question marks, and exclamation points.
About.com: Grammar & Composition http://grammar.about.com/od/basicmarks/a/end_marks.htm
Using your sources wisely and well. (n.d). Retrieved July 7, 2009.
The Modern Language Association (2009). MLA handbook for writers of research papers (7th ed.). New York: New York.