Simple question: what's the convention (or, if there's disagreement, guiding principles) for where to place reference, footnote and endnote numbers that apply to a clause leading up to a punctuation mark such as a comma or full stop/period?

E.g. in this example, should it be like [1] and [2], or like [a] and [b]?

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet[1], consectetur adipisicing elit,[a] sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua[2]. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.[b]

Before the punctuation looks seriously ugly, but after can make there seem to be a disconnect between the reference and what it refers to.


In German language the rule is very simple:

  • If the footnote or endnote refers to a single word, the footnote sign must directly follow the word. So your note [1] and [2] refers only to the words "amet" and "aliqua".
  • If the footnote or endnote refers to a complete sentence the footnote sign must directly follow the punctuation of the sentence. So your note [b] refers to the complete sentence before. In German I never saw a footnote [a] refering to the half sentence before the comma. I do not know whether it is allowed in English.

To summarize: the position of the footnote sign depends on the point you want to refer.

Please keep in mind that the footnote sign has to follow the word or sentence without a blank (directly). In German footnote signs have no brackets, so you will only find a superscript number or a sign like dagger etc.


This seems to be refreshingly clear and simple. The note reference characters go after the punctuation mark, like [a] and [b] above, unless it's a spacing punctuation mark like a dash. Seems to be pretty universally agreed.

Here's what the esteemed Chicago Manual Of Style (subscription required, so, second-hand quote, from 14th ed. 1993, Clause 15.8, p. 494) says about the matter:

The superior numerals used for note reference numbers in the text should follow any punctuation marks except the dash, which they precede. The numbers should also be placed outside closing parentheses.

As far as I can tell, the only disagreement with this convention is the optional preference by some to add kerning rules that pull the reference note back to overhang over low-hanging punctuation marks (commas and full stops/periods), presumably to reduce the 'disconnect' I mentioned in my question. Looks great, pain to do.

Common sense note: take care to avoid there being a space between the punctuation mark and reference. This also means: take care that the note reference doesn't break over new lines separately to the preceding content. For example, do...

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet,[a] consectetur adipisicing 
elit,[b] sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore 
aliqua[c] - fugiat nulla pariatur.


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet,[a] consectetur adipisicing elit,
[b] sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore aliqua
[c] - fugiat nulla pariatur.

Actually, there's one exception where I can't find a convention - ellipses. But that's such a niche unlikely case it's more of a separate question.

  • 1
    This is exactly how I've been handling it for 15+ years of typesetting. – Lauren Ipsum Jan 24 '13 at 22:26
  • 1
    IMHO, it is not "visually nice" to remove the space between the last word and the citation! You can use a non-breaking space instead (~ in LaTex). For example~[citation]. Thanks to Daniel. – Orion Dec 28 '13 at 15:55

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