Guidelines for Capitalizing and Punctuating Quotations

The Use of Quotation Marks

For a single sentence of quotation, enclose only the speaker's words in double quotation marks. If the attribution precedes the quotation, put a comma at the end of the attribution.

She said, "The motorcycle slid sideways and skidded about 100 feet."

If the attribution follows the quotation, change the period at the end of the quotation to a comma and put the period at the end of the attribution.

"The motorcycle slid sideways and skidded about 100 feet," she said.

For a direct quotation of two or more sentences with the attribution at the beginning of the first sentence, put a colon, not a comma, after the attribution and place the quotation in double quotation marks.

She said: "The motorcycle slid sideways and skidded about 100 feet. The driver was killed."

If the attribution is in the middle of a sentence or between two sentences, close the quotation marks before the attribution and reopen them after it. Use commas to separate the attribution from the quotation.

"The motorcycle slid sideways," she said, "and skidded about 100 feet. The driver was killed."

"The motorcycle slid sideways and skidded about 100 feet," she said. "The driver was killed."

For quotations that continue for several sentences, all the sentences should be enclosed within a single set of quotation marks.

She said: "I did not see the car when I stepped out onto the street. But when I saw the headlights coming at me, I knew it was going to hit me."

For direct quotations of more than one paragraph, place open quotation marks at the start of each new paragraph. Place close quotation marks at the end of only the last paragraph.

The senator added: "Perhaps the most shocking example of the insensitivity of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' educational system is the manner in which boarding school dormitories have been administered.

"Psychiatrists familiar with the problems of Indian children have told us that a properly run dormitory system is the most crucial aspect of boarding school life, particularly in elementary schools.

"Yet, when a 6-year-old Navajo child enters one of the boarding schools and becomes lonely or homesick, he must seek comfort from an instructional aide who has no training in child guidance and who is responsible for as many as 100 other unhappy children.

"The aide spends most of his time performing custodial chores. At night, the situation worsens as the ratio of dorm aides to children decreases."

For a direct quotation that includes another quotation, use double quotation marks to identify the overall quotation and single quotation marks (or an apostrophe on the keyboard) to indicate the quotation within the quotation:

During the 1960 presidential campaign, Republicans were accusing John F. Kennedy of using his family's wealth to buy the election. Kennedy joked: "I got a wire from my father that said: 'Dear Jack, Don't buy one vote more than necessary. I'll be damned if I'll pay for a landslide.'"

For a passage that has a quotation within a quotation within a quotation, use double quotation marks to indicate the third level of quotation, as in this example:

The senator said: "I had a voter tell me: 'I'm fed up with tax cheats. They get away with "murder."' And I had to agree with her."

Placement of Punctuation

The comma or period at the end of the quotation should always be placed inside the quotation marks. Colons and semicolons should be outside the quotation marks. These rules have no exceptions. Whether a question mark or an exclamation point should appear inside or outside the quotation marks depends on the meaning. If the quotation is a question or exclamation, put the question mark or exclamation point inside the quotation marks. Otherwise, leave it outside the quotation marks:

The senator asked, "How much will the program cost?"

Why did you say, "It's time to leave"?

Capitalization

The first word in a quotation that is a complete sentence is capitalized, but the first word in a partial quotation is not:

He said, "Life is just one damned thing after another."

He called journalism "literature in a hurry."

Word Order for Attribution

Journalists put the name of or pronoun for the speaker and the verb of attribution in their normal order, with the subject appearing before the verb. That is the way people talk, and it is usually the most graceful way to write:

INCORRECT: Said Ronald Reagan, "I've noticed that everybody who's for abortion has already been born."

REVISED: Ronald Reagan said, "I've noticed that everybody who's for abortion has already been born."

However, if a long identifying or descriptive phrase follows the name of the speaker, the normal word order may be awkward. In that case, place the verb first and the subject second:

AWKWARD: "This project will save you many times the $2 million it will cost," Smith, a 29-year-old architect employed by the California firm, said.

REVISED: "This project will save you many times the $2 million it will cost," said Smith, a 29-year-old architect employed by the California firm.