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Comma after a Quotation — A Comprehensive Guide

Comma after a Quotation — A Comprehensive Guide

Some people think that the punctuation system requires esoteric knowledge to be fully mastered.

Well, that might be the case if we think of it from a pedantic perspective, that the written language ought to be governed by “rigid” rules.

Thinking ths way may discourage people from writing, which should not be the case because punctuation marks only have one job…

And that’s to disambiguate a text.

In today’s post, you’ll get the hang of how to properly use a comma after a quotation. Hope you’ll stick with me ‘til the end.

 

 

Should we put a comma after a quotation?

As a general rule, in British English (BrE), the convention is to place the comma after the closing quotation mark, but the comma comes before it in American English (AmE). That said, a comma after a quotation, be it before or after the closing quotation mark, is only necessary when the quotation is followed by an indirect or nonrestrictive remark, when the quote is split halfway, or when the quote appears either in a compound or reversed-order complex sentence structure, notwithstanding the English variant used.

 

Commas & the closing quotation mark: American vs. British English 

Written grammatical conventions develop through time simply because we want to make texts more readable, as well as teachable.

But, unlike absolute monarchy, there isn’t a single prince nor princess that governs how a certain language needs to be used. Not even in English.

This means that it is natural for similarities and differences to exist among varieties of English, in which the most prominent ones are the American and British ways.

Punctuation conventions are overarching between AmE and BrE, and one major distinction is shown by how each English variant uses commas with quotation marks.

American English mainly uses the comma before the closing quotation mark, whereas the comma either goes before or after it in British English.

In British English, unless the comma is originally a part of the original quoted text, it goes after the quotation mark.

Example:

Suzy: I want to go skiing because it’s fun.

AmE: “I want to go skiing,” Suzy said, “because it’s fun.”

BrE: “I want to go skiing”, Suzy said, “because it’s fun.”

Apparently enough, these punctuation conventions also extend to other countries, such that AmE rules predominate in Canada and BrE in Australia.

Regardless of the differences, the syntactic patterns that govern the comma usage are pretty much the same.

So, here are the cases in which a comma is expected to be used with the closing punctuation mark.

 

Comma usage after quotation: Examples

We mainly use double quotation marks when representing a direct speech expressed by another person either textually or orally.

Quotation marks indicate that the elements written within are indirect parts of the complete sentence.

The comma usage together with the closing quotation mark depends, again, on the English variant known to the writer, as well as the authorities to which the text will be submitted.

Bear in mind that the comma appears before the closing quotation mark in American English, but it goes afterward in British English, generally speaking.

Also, while American English is keen on the use of double quotation marks as a default, British English makes use of both single and double quotation marks.

Also known as inverted commas, single and double quotation marks can be conveniently chosen when adhering to British English writing style.

This means that using either single or double quotation marks when quoting texts and speeches in British English style is widely accepted as long as consistency is observed.

However, the double quotation marks are mostly reserved for writing quotes within quotes, particularly for the quote that appears “inside” another quote.

Now, let us look at the instances in which a comma is necessarily placed together with quotation marks in both American and British English variants.

 

When the quote is followed by an indirect or reported remark

We can represent the exact words expressed by another person through the use of direct or quoted speech followed by an indirect remark.

The comma essentially goes with the closing quotation mark when the quoted speech is followed by the remark that aims to report the previous speech.

If we wish to write in a sentence format, a comma goes with the closing quotation mark if the quote is followed by a remark that aims to report the direct speech. 

These remarks typically include a person’s name and a verb such as “Alex said” or “said Alex,” which may also include an adverb like in “Alex said hesitantly.”

A direct speech may or may not be a complete sentence, but it always needs to start with a capital letter if it comes in front of the sentence.

Whether or not the direct speech is a complete sentence, it always needs to be segregated with a comma before the reported or indirect remark comes in.

For both American and British English conventions, the comma goes before the closing quotation mark as long as no other quoted information comes after the indirect remark.

This is the default rule when quoting complete sentences rather than fragments, phrases, words, or isolated letters.

Note again that although single quotation marks are recommended in British English, double quotation marks are also allowed.

AmE: “They must go now,” said Carla.

BrE: ‘They must go now,’ said Carla.

BrE: “They must go now”, said Carla.

The same punctuation placement rule applies for quoted speeches ending in question and exclamation marks.

 

When the quote is cut off midway

A direct speech may also be cut off halfway, which means we may place the indirect or reported remark in the middle to create some emphasis.

Should this be the intent, a comma needs to appear after the first part of the quote, followed by the reporting remark, and then the latter half of the direct speech.

But, things aren’t as easy as they seem because other relevant pieces of grammatical knowledge are necessary for creating these statements.

The comma placement, particularly with the quotation mark, is determined according to default rules in American English, that is, before the closing quotation mark.

In British English, though, the comma placement is decided according to “sense” and other grammatical elements.

In other words, knowledge of the sentence structure and punctuation placement are both necessary in successfully writing interrupted quoted remarks.

That is to say, if the comma is originally part of the quoted material, then it has to go before the final quotation mark in British English style.

However, if the comma is not an original part of the quoted material, then it has to go after the final quotation mark.

Example 1:

Investigator: She survived the headshot because the bullet did not hit her brain stem.

AmE: “She survived the headshot,” the investigator explained, “because the bullet did not hit her brain stem.”

BrE: ‘She survived the headshot’, the investigator explained, ‘because the bullet did not hit her brain stem.’

BrE: “She survived the headshot”, the investigator explained, “because the bullet did not hit her brain stem.”

Example 2:

Me: Christine hates raisins.

AmE: “Christine,” I said, “hates raisins.”

BrE: ‘Christine’, I said, ‘hates raisins.’

BrE: “Christine”, I said, “hates raisins.”

However, if the comma is part of the quoted material, then it goes before the final quotation mark both in American and British English styles.

The next example is a direct address, hence a comma is essentially placed before the receiver of the message or addressee.

In cases like this, the comma is originally part of the text to be quoted, so it also needs to appear before the closing quotation mark, right before the interruptive remark midway.

That said, British and American English styles both agree on the comma placement before the first closing quotation mark in this circumstance, as in the example below:

Example 3:

Me: Julia, don’t do that.

AmE: “Julia,” I calmly said, “don’t do that.”

BrE: ‘Julia,’ I calmly said, ‘don’t do that.’

BrE: “Julia,” I calmly said, “don’t do that.”

 

As you may have noticed, the period also comes before the last closing quotation mark in both variants rather than before it because it is also used to mark the end of the entire sentence.

The first letter of the first word in the initial direct speech needs to be capitalized, but the first letter of the first word in the second half of the direct speech should be written in lower case.

A comma should also come after the interruptive indirect remark, which would also automatically precede the opening quotation mark of the succeeding half of the direct speech.

I am well aware that what I’ve just said is nothing short of confusing, so here’s an example instead.

AmE: “She survived the headshot,” the investigator explained, “because the bullet did not hit her brain stem.”

BrE: “She survived the headshot”, the investigator explained, “because the bullet did not hit her brain stem”.

As you may have noticed, the period also comes after the closing quotation mark in British English, rather than before it.

 

When the quote is followed by a nonrestrictive remark, another quote, and then another nonrestrictive remark

A quoted speech may also be followed by a remark which is grammatically dispensable, which is also known as a parenthetical or nonrestrictive expression.

As syntactical conventions suggest in most, if not all, English variants, parenthetical remarks are always set off with a comma or commas to mark their removability.

With direct quotations, a parenthetical remark can be a comment or opinion towards the quoted speech or to the speaker per se.

This can be particularly seen in an interrupted quotation followed by a nonrestrictive or parenthetical remark towards the end.

Again, in American English style, the comma conveniently goes before the final quotation mark regardless of whether the quoted speech contains a comma in the original text.

But, in British English, we have to consider the original quoted material to be able to determine the suggested comma placement.

Again, if no comma is seen in the source or original text, then the comma goes after the closing punctuation mark in British English style.

However, the comma goes inside the quotation marks in the second half of the quote because it marks the end of the quote, as explained in subsection 4.1.1.

As this is the case, you can observe that the comma goes after the final quotation mark in the first half of the quote and before the final quotation mark in the second part in the example below:

Example:

Dana: He was really rude yet handsome at the same time.

AmE: Dana said, “He was really rude,” and sheepishly continued, “yet handsome at the same time,” which I agreed with.

BrE: Dana said, ‘He was really rude’, and sheepishly continued, ‘yet handsome at the same time,’ which I agreed with.

This case may also be observed in academic papers wherein a researcher uses pseudonyms, which are also generally enclosed with double quotation marks.

As the research writer may need to add further information about the pseudonym for ethical reasons, a comma also appears after the name.

This particular type of parenthetical remark is known as an appositive phrase, which acts as an adjective to a preceding noun or antecedent.

AmE: Participant “Victor,” a 30-year-old unlicensed embalmer, reported that he “has never had enough time and money to get a license.”

BrE: Participant ‘Victor’, a 30-year-old unlicensed embalmer, reported that he ‘has never had enough time and money to get a license.’

BrE: Participant “Victor”, a 30-year-old unlicensed embalmer, reported that he “has never had enough time and money to get a license”.

In both sentences above, the second quoted fragment is not preceded by a comma because it is also part of the entire explanation given.

As the quoted speech is a fragment rather than a complete sentence, it does not begin with a capital letter in both English variants.

The use of double quotation marks suggests that the line was directly quoted from the mentioned person, which can also be replaced with single marks in British English.

The same comma placement rule is applied when quoting isolated phrases, words, and letters somewhere within the sentence.

In American English, the comma simply goes inside the quote or right before the closing quotation mark.

In British English, the comma is generally placed outside or after the closing quotation mark as it is not necessarily part of the original text.

Example:

Source text: I saw a man with a denim jacket in the alley who looked suspicious. 

AmE: There had been a man wearing a “denim jacket in the alley,” according to the report, who looked “suspicious.”

BrE: There had been a man wearing a ‘denim jacket in the alley’, according to the report, who looked ‘suspicious.’

BrE: There had been a man wearing a “denim jacket in the alley”, according to the report, who looked “suspicious.”

The comma also goes after the closing quotation mark when writing down isolated letters within sentences, per British English convention.

Example:

AmE: The letters “m,” “n,” “o,” and “p” are adjacent to one another.

BrE: The letters ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘o’ and ‘p’ are adjacent to one another.

BrE: The letters “m”, “n”, “o” and “p” are adjacent to one another.

Comma after a quotation pin
 

When the quote is in a compound sentence

A compound sentence is composed of two independent clauses tethered together by any of the following coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.

In compound sentences, we always need to place a comma before the linking conjunction to mark the independence of each clause.

Therefore, a quoted speech appearing before a coordinating conjunction in a compound sentence also needs a post-comma.

In this case, the comma goes before the final quotation in both American and British English styles, just like in the particular example below:

Male: No.

Female: Yes.

AmE: He said, “No,” but she said, “Yes.”

BrE: He said, ‘No,’ but she said, ‘Yes.’

BrE: He said, “No,” but she said, “Yes.”

The same comma placement rule can be observed when the quote to be reported is a compound sentence that is cut off midway.

This is applicable to British English because the sentence construction and punctuation rules dictate so.

Example:

Billy: You can pawn that ring to a pawn shop, or you can pawn it to me in the meantime.

AmE: “You can pawn that ring to a pawn shop,” Billy said, “or you can pawn it to me in the meantime,” he continued. 

BrE: ‘You can pawn that ring to a pawn shop,’ Billy said, ‘or you can pawn it to me in the meantime,’ he continued.

BrE: “You can pawn that ring to a pawn shop,” Billy said, “or you can pawn it to me in the meantime,” he continued.

 

When the quote is in a reversed-order complex sentence

Another syntax-related comma rule suggests placing a comma in an inverted complex sentence structure, which is composed of at least one independent and one dependent clause.

These two clauses are linked by subordinating conjunctions, including “unless,” “because,” and “if.”

A complex sentence is ordinarily written in such a way that the independent clause precedes the dependent clause, which should not be separated by a comma.

However, the inverted structure, meaning the dependent clause comes before the independent, has to be split up with a comma.

So, a quotation placed at the end of the frontal dependent clause also needs a comma afterwards.

Note that the comma goes before the closing quotation mark in American English style and otherwise in British English in the next example.

This is also driven by the reason that the quoted speech is only a fragment taken from the original text rather than the complete speech itself.

The fragment also happens to be at the end of the first clause in the inverted complex-sentence format, hence the necessary comma placement.

Example:

Male: I can’t live without you at all.

Female: Then I’m staying.

 

AmE: Because he said he “can’t live without her,” she decided to stay.

BrE: Because he said he ‘can’t live without her’, she decided to stay.

BrE: Because he said he “can’t live without her”, she decided to stay.

In like manner with the examples earlier, the quoted speech is also constructed as a part of the entire sentence.

And thus, a comma does not appear before the first word of the verbatim speech, and the first letter should also be in lower case.

 

The incorrect comma usage with the closing quotation mark

If there are syntactical conventions asserting the necessary comma placement, there are also conditions where we do not need a comma with the closing quotation mark.

Here’s a list of guidelines where placing a comma either before or after the closing quotation mark becomes incorrect.

 

When the quotation is a part of an explanation or sentence

As sampled a couple of times earlier, a quoted remark that is syntactically connected with the entire sentence does not have to be separated with any commas.

The quotation marks only serve as speech markers signaling the reader the remark has been inserted verbatim or exactly the same as in the source.

So long that the quoted information does not fall in any of the conditions enumerated in the earlier section, a comma must not appear after the quotation.

In this case, the same comma non-placement rule applies to both American and British English.

AmE: Justin said he “wasn’t ready” to settle down because he’s “too young.”

BrE: Justin said he “wasn’t ready” to settle down because he’s “too young”.

 

When the quotation is followed by a parenthetical citation

Academic writing is often loaded with quotations taken from related studies, and these quotations have be to cited accordingly to avoid plagiarism.

We can usually find the citation, meaning the source of the quoted information, within parentheses afterward.

No comma should be placed before the opening parenthesis, which also means either before or after the closing quotation mark in this case.

AmE: Another research found that this particular behavior is “common among single mothers in urban areas” (Watson & Smith, 2018, p. 75).

BrE: Another research found that this particular behavior is “common among single mothers in urban areas” (Watson & Smith, 2018, p. 75).

 

When the quotation is used as a linguistic example or as itself

Quotation marks are also used to indicate that a word is being used to represent itself as a linguistic element, which also means that the element functions as a noun.

Again, this is true for as long as that the necessary comma conditions listed in the previous section are not met.

No comma should be seen in the following examples and the like.

AmE: The letter “x” indicates that the criterion has not been met.

BrE: The letter “x” indicates that the criterion has not been met.

 

When the quotation is used to present an alternative meaning

Suggesting an alternative meaning is common especially in academic texts, which signals the reader that the terminology is a coined word, a comment, a slang word, a hedge, etc.

When this happens, the quoted remark is actually an essential sentence element, but the quotation marks prompt the reader that the verbiage should not be interpreted literally.

Therefore, no comma should be seen around the quotation marks as the quotation is a part of the entire sentence structure.

Here’s an example for clarity.

AmE: The result indicates that the behavior is “normal” within the first group.

BrE: The result indicates that the behavior is “normal” within the first group.

 

Frequently Asked Questions on Comma After a Quotation

 

Where does the period go when you end a sentence with a quotation?

In American English, the default rule is to place the period before the closing quotation mark, but the period is placed after it in British English.

 

When do we need to use quotation marks?

We use quotation marks when representing a direct speech from a person, an alternative meaning to a word or phrase, a linguistic element as itself, or a coined term.

 

Does the question mark go before or after the quotation mark?

The question mark goes inside the quotation marks if it applies to the quoted information as in this sentence: She asked, “What’s your decision?” However, the question mark goes outside if it applies to the entire sentence as in this example: Did she really punch him in the face after hearing him say “I’m leaving”?

 

Conclusion

I’d like to highlight again that punctuation marks are supposed to make our lives easier rather than harder.

Also, no matter which English variant you want to use, consistency to the grammatical conventions suggested by the language is always pivotal in preventing miscommunication.

That’s all for now. Thanks for your time, and see you in our next post!