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I am trying to learn to properly punctuate a quote, for example If I have

I said "Let us go" and we left.

  • Do I put a comma before or after the quote?
  • Do I put a period after the word go before the end quote?
  • Dan - Thanks for the tick, but I'd suggest leaving it a day or so before accepting an answer. I'm particularly keen to hear from others on this one. – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Apr 3 '18 at 8:27
  • "I said, "Let's go." [I'm not sure you need to tell us that you actually went.] – Ken Mohnkern Apr 16 '18 at 13:00
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There are two ways you could punctuate that sentence, either with two commas, or with a colon and period:

I said, "Let's go," and we left.

I said: "Let's go." And we left.

In American English, the convention is to put the comma inside the quotation marks. In Britsh English the comma comes after the quotation mark: I said, "let's go", and we left.

  • Not quite as simple as American/British, and I'm not sure about that comma after "said". Can you give another example? And I'm sure I should moan about starting a sentence with a conjunction. But I do that myself. – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Apr 3 '18 at 8:24
  • @ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere If you search for "punctuation dialogue" or some such you will find many examples with the comma after "said". And I used the examples given by the asker, so do not complain to me about style. – user29032 Apr 3 '18 at 11:24
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    Fair enough. Search done, and I'm seeing a whole load. Maybe I should get out more. And the bit about the conjunctions was tongue-in-cheek - I should probably have closed it with a semi-colon/hyphen/close bracket, but that's a new trick for this old dog. – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Apr 3 '18 at 12:36
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There is no single answer. Even if I knew which country's audience you wanted to write for, there are always variations.

The most common punctuation in North America (but not the only one) is:

I said, "Let's go," and we left.

In North America, if asked to use British punctuation, we would punctuate it differently.

I said, 'Let's go', and we left.


Before I get lambasted about it not actually being done this way in the UK, I have to make several points.

First, it's exactly what the University of Oxford Style Guide (page 16) says to do. Granted there may be other authoritative British style guides (similar to North America's The Chicago Manual of Style or The Associated Press Stylebook), but, if so, I'm not aware of them. (I welcome all input on this in comments.)

Second, Oxford does not say to always put punctuation outside of the final quotation mark. It qualifies such a statement by adding that "if the quote would have required punctuation in its original form, place the punctuation inside the quotation marks."

In other words, the following punctuation is correct (per Oxford):

Bob, do you like cheese? -> ‘Bob,’ I asked, ‘do you like cheese?’

Here, the comma goes inside the quotation marks because the quotation itself has a comma. Which is why you sometimes see punctuation inside and sometimes see punctuation outside. It's not an all-or-nothing rule but has precise conditions.

Last, I know that even though a style guide says to do something that doesn't necessarily reflect what people (or publishers) actually do. It's possible that Oxford is not reflective of reality. But I can only go by the objective standards I have access to. I do know that every fiction book I've read that's been published in the UK uses this style of punctuation. (Non-fiction books, and other media, could well be different.)


But the bottom line is that there is no single answer to this. In North America, specifically, the first example I gave is most common. But there are several other styles that could be used.

  • I said: "Let's go." And we left.
  • I said, Let's go, and we left.
  • "Let's go" (I said)—and we left.

And, North American confusion and incorrect stereotypes aside, British punctuation will have just as many acceptable variations.

  • Thanks for linking the Oxford guide - page 16 nicely illustrates the difference between dialogue and quotation. – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Apr 14 '18 at 10:01
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    Yes, for anything debatable like this I feel that sources should be provided. Ironically, I find the second example at the top right of page 16 (immediately after "OR") to be internally inconsistent, or correct only if there is some other rule that has not been stated. I actually wrote to the Oxford editor about it—but she's away on maternity leave until the end of the year . . . – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Apr 14 '18 at 14:37
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It's not a simple question, and it depends where you are, whether it's direct speech or attribution, and whether all or part of what was said is being quoted (like this from a UK source).

Punctuation outside the quotation marks in dialogue looks weird to a British audience - it's something others say we do, like having bad teeth or talking like Dick Van Dyke in "Mary Poppins", but with less justification.

It gets worse, though, and the phase you've picked demonstrates this :

I said "Let us go," and we left. [I said "Shall we depart?" and we followed that suggestion.]

I said "Let us go", and we left. [I said "Release us", they did, and we departed.]

Both seem to work depending on the context, and the second fits the idea that what's inside the quotation marks is not a complete account - there will have been dialogue or at least a physical response from our captors, so this agrees with The Guardian on where to put the comma.

There's significant UK bias in my answer, so I'm hoping others will add perspectives from other English speaking (and writing) lands.

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