Punctuating Quotations with Exclamation Points and Semicolons

In English, the rules for using quotation marks with exclamation points follow the same general rules as question marks. And although you aren’t likely to use quotation marks with semicolons, in case you want to impress your grammar teacher, the rules are included here.

If the entire sentence is an exclamation, but the quoted words aren’t, put the exclamation point outside the quotation marks.

If the quoted words are an exclamation, put the exclamation point inside the quotation marks.

Here are some sample sentences with exclamation points:

Gene said, “I can’t believe it’s not butter!” (The quoted words are an exclamation but the entire sentence is not.)
I simply cannot believe that Gene actually said, “No, thank you”! (Now the entire sentence is an exclamation but the quoted words are not.)

If both the sentence and the quotation are exclamations, put the exclamation point inside the quotation marks.

Take a look at this example:

I cannot believe that Gene actually said, “No way would I run for president!”

No matter what, don’t use two exclamation points:

Wrong: I refuse to believe that Gene said, “In your dreams!”!
Right: I refuse to believe that Gene said, “In your dreams!”

Every hundred years or so you may write a sentence that has both a quotation and a semicolon. Here's how to combine semicolons and quotations.

When writing a sentence that includes a quotation and a semicolon, put the semicolon outside the quotation marks.

Sneak a peek at this example:

Cedric thinks that vending-machine snacks are a food group; “I can’t imagine eating anything else,” he said.

and

Cedric said, “I can’t imagine eating anything but vending-machine snacks”; he must have the IQ of a sea slug.

Okay, maybe that last sentence was a bit nasty. Apologies to sea slugs everywhere.

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