Students often ask me whether or not punctuation goes inside or outside a closing quotation mark, and there’s a reason everyone is confused. The rules in American English are different from the rules in British English; and, of course, as in all American grammatical rules, there’s always an exception to the rule.

The hard-and-fast rule here in the U.S. is: punctuation stays inside quotation marks.

She said, “I hate studying for finals.”

“I hate studying for finals,” she told me.

The exception:  quotation marks with exclamation points and question marks.  This is where things get strange (and where we’re more like the British).  When combining exclamation points and question marks with quotation marks, however, where you place the other marks depends on the context of the quotation.

If your sentence as a whole is a question or an exclamation, then the question mark or exclamation point goes outside the closing quotation mark; if only what is in the quotation marks is a question or exclamation, then the question mark or exclamation point goes inside the closing quotation mark.

Examples:

When the whole thing is a question, the question mark goes after the closing quotation mark:

Did she ask you if you read “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf”?

When only the part in quotation marks is a question, the question mark goes inside the closing quotation mark:

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” is my favorite.

Do the same exclamation points.