Section 6.119 in the Spotlight

Commas with question marks or
exclamation points

Many quotations end with a period or comma:

“He’s gone.” She turned away.
“Indeed,” he said.

Some quotations end with a question mark or exclamation point, in which case there is no need for a period or comma:

She raised her eyebrows. “Murder?”
“I didn’t do it!” he replied.

CMOS 6.119 treats the special case where the title of a work (a movie, for instance, or a book or article or song) ends with a question mark or exclamation point, and the syntax calls for a comma. In such cases, the comma should be used:

“Are You a Doctor?,” the fifth story in Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, treats modern love.
All the band’s soundtracks—A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Yellow Submarine, and Magical Mystery Tour—were popular.

Readers regularly write to the “Chicago Style Q&A” to ask whether  it’s OK to use a comma after a question mark or exclamation point if the quotation is not the title of a work. What about sentences like these?

The questions, except for “What’s your name?” were tricky.
The crowd yelled “Brava!” “Encore!” and “Bellissima!”

Commas after such question marks and exclamation points are not required, and often such sentences are perfectly readable without them. When commas are needed to set off text in apposition, parentheses are sometimes a good option {The questions (except for “What’s your name?”) were tricky.}. But when a comma seems to be the best solution, a writer or editor might reasonably borrow the logic of 6.119 to defend adding one.


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One thought on “Section 6.119 in the Spotlight

  1. If you’re agonizing over how to punctuate something, rephrasing may be the best solution. I would replace the seventh example with “Except for ‘What’s your name,’ the questions were tricky” or “The questions were tricky, except for ‘What’s your name?’”

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