Why Are Periods and Commas Put Inside Quotation Marks?

Why are periods and commas put inside quotation marks and exclamation points and question marks put outside the quotation marks?

I’d never pondered this question until recently — I just followed the punctuation rule — but now the rule so often seems illogical.

For example: Did you read my short story “The Willow”? This is the logical placement of the end punctuation, right? The title of the short story (which is published in the Change is in the Wind anthology, by the way) has no period in the title, but if I rephrase the sentence to make it a statement, it seems as if there is a period after the title. I hope you read my short story “The Willow.”

Apparently, this rule of placing periods and commas inside quotation marks is only practiced in the USA. In Britain, they do things differently, but since my books and blogs are mostly read and rated by those in the USA, that’s the rule I have to follow, even if it’s (sometimes) against my inclination.

It is an outdated rule. Apparently, when type was set by hand for printing, if the period and comma were placed outside the quotation mark, the delicate pieces were in danger of getting bent out of shape, knocked out of place, or broken off, and so were placed inside the quotation marks for protection. With electronic type, there is no danger of punctuation marks wandering astray, but still the rule lingers.

No one seems to care one way or another about this anachronistic placement, but since it’s one of those rules so many people don’t seem to remember, I have a hunch period and comma placement will become a non-issue, with everyone simply doing as they please.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with