I'm helping a student with a sentence that needs to quote the following two phrases said by a character:

Man the boundaries! Protect us!

The sentence we are trying to write is:

"Man the boundaries! Protect us!", she ordered the guards.

The problem lies in the comma just after the end-quotation mark. According to MLA, should it be after the quotes, before the quotes, or omitted altogether? I'm used to having the comma inside the quotation but the exclamation mark is already there and I couldn't find out how to resolve this particular case.


It occurred to me after reading the first answer given that I have left out some important information that should be noted. First, the quoted passage is from a fictional work, but the paper we are trying to write is an analysis of several fictional works, which makes it non-fiction. Second, citation is not given in this particular sentence because we have elected to merge all citations to the end of the paragraph, because all quotations within this paragraph are from the same source. Furthermore, this is an essay assigned by the instructor and must use MLA.

  • I don't mean to be rude – I know nothing about MLA – but were there no resources for this when you googled it? Because right now what I'd do is google this and try to find such a rule. I think a potential answerer would have to do that too, so it'd be nice if you linked us to the manual or web page where this can be found.
    – user3395
    Jul 28, 2018 at 15:57
  • @userr2684291 MLA is a common format used by American universities for English essays, and we mostly use Purdue OWL as a reference. Unfortunately, it does not mention what should be done when an exclamation point exists in the quoted passage but the sentence structure normally requires a comma.
    – Setsu
    Jul 28, 2018 at 16:18
  • I don't understand. In a non fiction work you wouldn't write this at all. Are the words "she ordered the guards." in the fictional work that you are quoting?
    – James K
    Jul 28, 2018 at 16:50
  • 1
    Then my answer stands. This is a short piece of fiction (embedded in a non-fiction work) as such MLA guidelines for quotes don't apply. See the general advice on using punctuation around quotes as mentioned in the Guardian article.
    – James K
    Jul 28, 2018 at 20:15
  • 1
    I agree that the right answer is to omit the comma. If you don't like the resulting text, you can dodge the issue by reordering the sentence: She ordered the guards, "Man the boundaries! Protect us!"
    – J.R.
    Jul 29, 2018 at 10:08

1 Answer 1


You are using the wrong set of guidelines.

Here is the guideline for short quotes

To indicate short quotations (four typed lines or fewer of prose or three lines of verse) in your text, enclose the quotation within double quotation marks. Provide the author and specific page citation (in the case of verse, provide line numbers) in the text, and include a complete reference on the Works Cited page. Punctuation marks such as periods, commas, and semicolons should appear after the parenthetical citation. Question marks and exclamation points should appear within the quotation marks if they are a part of the quoted passage but after the parenthetical citation if they are a part of your text.

So your quote is not valid as it doesn't contain a properly formatted citation to the source.

This is because the MLA guidelines are not designed for fiction. They are for writing non-fiction works.

For fiction, you just want the general guidance for quotation marks. Here you already have punctuation that is part of the quote, so it belongs inside the quote (British and American style agree here) and no further punctuation is needed. (British and American style also agree). So remove the comma.

The Guardian has a discussion of quotation styles

  • Your answer has prompted me to re-clarify my question, as it touched on topics I had not considered when drafting the question. The paper we're writing is indeed a non-fictional analysis of fictional works, and the citations have all been moved to the end of the paragraph (that contains the problematic sentence) since all quotations came from the same source. Very sorry about this omission on my part.
    – Setsu
    Jul 28, 2018 at 16:32

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