How do we punctuate properly around parentheses or quotation marks? This question arises often, and the answer contains enough variables that it deserves its own article. Without further ado, the rules:
If part of a sentence within parentheses falls within a larger sentence, punctuate outside the closing parenthesis. When the movie came out (starring Tom Hanks, Alice May, and Tim Curry), we all went to see it. I used to think that anything inside parentheses was optional. Let's pretend that's true (it sort of is); a sentence must still flow correctly if you delete everything within the open and close parentheses. We could then rewrite the example as When the movie came out, we all went to see it. If the last comma were inside the parentheses, it would read, When the movie came out we all went to see it. That is grammatically incorrect and fails my test.
If parentheses surround a full sentence, the period must be within the parentheses. The game was late. (But of course we all attended.) It was a good game. The parentheses mark off an entire sentence, which deserves its own period. Applying my test again, we get The game was late. It was a good game.
Sentences within quotations within parentheses within a sentence must be normally punctuated except for the last. Confused? When the teacher handed out the pop-quiz, students moaned ("Really? Not this again. I'm going to fail"), but took the quiz anyway. Notice the dialogue within the parentheses is punctuated minus the last sentence. If that one were punctuated, the entire thing would come to an ungrammatical crashing halt. For the smart readers who doubt the validity of my rules, I stole this one from The New Yorker.
If parentheses fall within quotations, punctuate according to the sentence within the quotations. Nothing compares to the hit single "I'll Remember (In the Still of the Night)." Song titles are in quotes (true for most style books), and since the parentheses are part of the song title, not the entire sentence, the final period comes after the closing parenthesis. Digested everything so far? Good, now it's time for quotations.
Quotations marks fall under two categories in my mind: dialogue and not dialogue—my non-technical term. The difference being fiction and non-fiction, though not dialogue quotes can appear in fiction and dialogue quotes can appear in non-fiction. Wishy washy as that sounds, the rules are simple.
For dialogue, punctuation always falls within the quotation marks. I walked down the street. "Hey Jake," said a familiar voice. I turned. "Remember me?" he said, "your old friend Ruiz." In each situation, punctuation falls within the closing quotation. Punctuation ending dialogue is limited to the period, comma, ellipse, exclamation point, question mark, and occasionally the dash.
For not dialogue, anything except periods and commas falls outside the quotes. Was it Barthelme who wrote "The Classroom"? No, you fool, it was Ofsowitz who wrote "The Classroom"; Barthelme wrote "The School." The question mark and semicolon fall outside, but the period always falls inside. It helps to ask if the question (in the first sentence) is part of the quotation. If not, it must remain outside. Semicolons, like colons, must always be followed by something, and that something must either be part of the quotation or the quotation must not restrain the colon or semicolon. After the semicolon, you'll find the word "letter"; before the semicolon, I was lying.
And with that (not too humble, eh?) I leave you to deal with this mess—or was it straightforward?—of parentheses and punctuation marks. ("And don't forget the quotes," you say as an excuse to add quotes.)