Grammar Tips > Quotation marks and punctuation: Inside or Outside?

Quotation marks and punctuation: Inside or Outside?

English Punctuation rules can be hard keep straight as it is, so it doesn't help when British English and American English sometimes observe different rules. Several principles taught to American schoolchildren are reversed or completely changed in the UK, and vice versa. Here are four common punctuation variations between British and American English.

1. Quotation marks

Perhaps the best-known and most confusing punctuation difference between British English and American English is the use and placement of quotation marks. American English denotes a quote with double quotation marks (") and then uses single quotes (') for quotations within the original quote or spoken material. American English also keeps all punctuation within the double quotes.

"I heard Queen Elizabeth say, 'I can't keep these rules straight,'" Uncle Sam said. "Neither can I!"

But Brits do the opposite: they use single quotation marks (') and then change to double quotes (") for quoted material within the original quote. In British English, punctuation marks go outside the quotation marks.

'Thank you, Uncle Sam', Queen Elizabeth said. 'I always say, "Punctuation is a sticky wicket", but that's another story'.

The only exception in the British system is when punctuation is part of the quoted material. In that case, the punctuation marks can go inside the quotes.

'By the way', the Queen said to Uncle Sam, 'What does it mean when you say, "O say can you see?"'

2. Titles

In American English, abbreviated titles (such as "Dr." for "doctor," and "Mrs." for "missus") get a period after the last letter of the abbreviation. Brits, however, simply write "Dr" and "Mrs" and forgo the period.

3. Time

Not only do Americans visiting the UK need to adjust to the time difference, they must also use different punctuation when writing out the time there. Brits use a period when writing the time (e.g., 6.45), while Americans separate the numbers with a colon (e.g., 6:45).

4. Parentheses

If you want to write an aside in British or American English, you better know how to contain it. In American English, these are parentheses: ( ). In British English, however, parentheses are called "round brackets" or simply "brackets." American English also uses the term "brackets" but to describe a different mark of parenthetical punctuation that looks like this: [ ].

How do you feel about the placement of punctuation when quotation marks are involved?

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