How to use quotation marks correctly

How to Use Quotation Marks Correctly

If you thought the first article about quotation marks was a non-stop ride of grammatical thrills and chills, hold on to your hats because part two features even more explosions of grammatical greatness! And now, without further ado, we are proud to present How to Use Quotation Marks.

1. Quotations and speech

Isolating quotations or speech from the rest of a sentence is the most common use for quotation marks. In fiction, quotation marks are used to denote when a character is speaking. In journalism, quotation marks are used to indicate that what is written is a direct quote.

In academic writing, quotation marks are used to quote directly from a text. One problem we run into with our clients who write fiction is the interjection of a dialogue tag (e.g., he said) in the middle of some dialogue.

The following examples will illustrate the incorrect and correct way to accomplish this:

Incorrect: “I hope, Prudence said with a tear in her eye, that you make it home one day.”

Correct: “I hope,” Prudence said with a tear in her eye, “that you make it home one day.”

2. Scare quotes

Scare quotes are quotation marks that are typically used to indicate sarcasm or irony (e.g., It's only snowing a “little”). There's even a physical action associated with this type of quotation marks called air quotes.

This use of quotation marks is familiar to us; however, scare quotes are also used in another way.

In academic writing, scare quotes are used to critically discuss terms that may contain implications the author wants to personally distance him or herself from.

3. Use in meta-language

This is one of the more interesting concepts we came across in researching how to use quotation marks. Sometimes these little punctuation marks are used to distinguish a word from its associated concept.

Sound a bit highfalutin'? Well, the best way to illustrate this concept is through example: The word “yogurt” is derived from an Old English word meaning stinky milk.

In this example, the word is offset by quotation marks to let readers know we are talking about the actual word and not about the object to which the word refers.

4. Unusual usage

How to Use Quotation Marks ("") in Academic Writing

Quotation marks (also known as speech marks, quotes or inverted commas) are used to set off direct speech and quotations.

In academic writing, you need to use quotation marks when you quote a source. This includes quotes from published works and primary data such as interviews. The exception is when you use a block quote, which should be set off and indented without quotation marks.

Whenever you quote someone else’s words, it is essential to introduce the quotation and integrate it into your own text – don’t rely on quotations to make your points for you.

Single vs double quotation marks

There are two types of quotation marks: ‘single’ and “double”. Which one to choose generally depends on whether you are using American or British English. The US convention is to use double quotation marks, while the UK convention is to use single quotation marks.

US EnglishUK English
  • She said that this model is “the best there is.”
  • She said that this model is ‘the best there is’.

Double quotation marks can also be acceptable in UK English, provided you are consistent throughout the text. APA style requires double quotations.

Quotes within quotes

When your quotations are nested (i.e. a quote appears inside another quote), you should use the opposite style of quotation marks for the nested quotation.

US EnglishUK English
  • She said, “This model has been called ‘the best there is.’”
  • She said, ‘This model has been called “the best there is”’.

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See an example

How to Use Quotation Marks Correctly

Punctuation within quotations

US and UK English also differ on where to place punctuation within quotation marks.

In US English, commas and periods are placed within the quotation marks. Other punctuation marks should be placed outside (unless they are part of the original quotation).

In UK English, all punctuation marks are placed outside the quotation marks, except when they are part of the original quotation.

US EnglishUK English
  • “The best there is,” she said.
  • ‘The best there is’, she said.
  • Did she say, “the best there is”?
  • She asked, ‘Is that the best there is?’

Note that when you include a parenthetical citation after a quote, the punctuation mark should always come after the citation (except with block quotes).

  • Many researchers argue that this model is “the best there is” (Lopez, 2015).

Integrating quotations

In academic writing, it’s important to integrate quotations into your own writing – avoid placing them in sentences of their own.

  • Jeffrey commented on the problem. “Our mayor abuses municipal funds!”

There are many ways to integrate quotations into your text.

Integrated with a colon

You can use a colon to introduce a quotation. Note that a colon should only be used after an independent clause (a piece of text that could stand as a full sentence on its own).

Jeffrey commented on the problem: “Our mayor abuses municipal funds!”

Integrated fluidly

Partial quotations can be integrated directly into the sentence without any extra punctuation.

Jeffrey was outraged that the mayor “abuses municipal funds.”

Integrated as dialogue

The Complete Guide To Using Quotation Marks Without Looking Like An Idiot

Business Insider/Melia Robinson
Our language needs quotation marks. Without them, we couldn't know who said what to whom or even what they meant.

Unfortunately, using them can prove tricky. Quotations marks appear in both double and single form with other punctuation placed inside or outside of them depending on the situation.

We've broken down what you need to know to use them correctly in American English.

The Uses

Direct quotes require quotation marks. If you want to write exactly what someone said or wrote, you'll need to use double quotations marks to offset the sentence or phrase.

Example: My brother said, “We should go to the liquor store and buy some Scotch.”

Note: If a full paragraph of quoted material is followed by more quoted material, don't place a quotation mark at the end of the paragraph. Do, however, begin the next paragraph with a quotation mark.

Some titles require quotation marks. Many grammar guides — including the Associated Press Stylebook, which BI follows — list every title you need to surround with quotation marks. But we prefer a simple guideline for general writing: If the creative work exists inside a larger creative work, use quotes.

For example, you'd place an essay featured in a book within double quotation marks, while the book's title simply requires italics. A single track on a CD also needs quotation marks, as would an episode in a TV show or an article in a newspaper or magazine.

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You can also use quotation marks to emphasize a word or phrase, often marking sarcasm or irony.

Example: Let's go “buy” some Scotch. (Maybe you intend to steal or otherwise nab a bottle for free.)

But many writers discourage these so-called scare quotes. They can mislead readers and seem a bit too snarky.

The Rules

First, let's address single quotation marks.

One rule covers this: Use single quotation marks instead of the standard double quotations within another quoted phrase. This holds true for direct quotes, titles, and scare quotes appearing in another quoted phrase.

Example: “Your brother just said, 'We should go to the liquor store and buy some Scotch,'” my friend explained.

Next, we'll go over proper punctuation placement around quotations. Again, these rules refer to American English. Don't listen to the Brits.

Periods always go inside quotation marks, except in sentences with a citation. (You can look up MLA and APA references on your own.)

You'll also never double-up on punctuation. Use a comma, period, question mark, etc., but don't use two of those in a row.

  • Commas at the end of quoted phrases go inside quotation marks.
  • Example: “We should go to the liquor store and buy some Scotch,” my brother said.
  • Even though the quote in the above example is a complete sentence, never use a period until the end of the entire sentence.
  • Commas preceding quoted phrases go outside quotation marks.
  • Example: My brother said, “We should go to the liquor store and buy some Scotch.”
  • If attribution occurs in the middle of a quote, place the first comma within the quotation marks and the second outside.
  • Example: “We should go to the liquor store,” my brother said, “and buy some Scotch.”

A comma will almost always separate a direct quote from an attribution. The only exceptions to this are when “that” precedes the quote or if the quote isn't a complete sentence.

  1. When using question marks, placement depends on whether the entire sentence is a question or only the quote is a question.
  2. If only the quote is a question, the question mark goes inside quotation marks.
  3. Example: My brother said, “Should we go the liquor store?”
  4. Even if the quoted question occurs in the middle of a sentence, you still need the question mark (and no comma).

Example: My brother said, “Should we go to the liquor store?” as we walked out the door.

  • If the entire sentence is a question, however, the question mark goes outside the quotation marks.
  • Example: Did my brother say, “We should go to the liquor store”?
  • Lastly, if both the entire sentence and the quote are questions, put the question back inside the quotation marks.
  • Example: Did my brother say, “Should we go to the liquor store?”

When you're quoting a question that's quoting another question, it's extremely difficult to know where to put the question mark. Technically, you should place a question mark between single and double quotation marks — as strange as that looks.

Example: My friend asked, “Did your brother just say, 'We should go to the liquor store'?”

The same rules for question marks apply to exclamation points.

Finally, colons and semi-colons always go outside quotation marks. You might think you won't ever use a semicolon, but it has nuanced purposes.

Now that you know all about quotation marks, you might really need to buy that Scotch.

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How do I use quotation marks correctly?

Quotation marks are used with direct quotes, with titles of certain works and to imply alternate meanings.

American style uses double quotes (“) for initial quotations, then single quotes (‘) for quotations within the initial quotation.
British style uses single quotes (‘) for initial quotations, then double quotes (“) for quotations within the initial quotation.

The American style places commas and periods inside the quotation marks, even if they are not in the original material. British style places unquoted periods and commas outside the quotation marks. For all other punctuation, the British and American styles are in agreement: unless the punctuation is part of the quoted material, it goes outside the quotation marks.

Here are some examples of correct US English usage:

  • “I don't know about you, but I'm tired,” he said.
  • The truth was too embarrassing, so Ben always pretended his favorite film was “Reservoir Dogs.”
  • “Julie, remember what the Principal said: 'Everyone has a special talent.' What do you think yours could be?”

And here are a few examples of correct British English usage:

  • 'I wouldn't exactly call it “genius”, but it was funny,' she conceded.
  • Adam sighed at the thought of spending his evening writing an essay on 'Wuthering Heights'.
  • 'Hey, look, Amy! It says “Open as usual”, so we should try the door.'

Quotation marks

Though not necessarily logical, the American rules for multiple punctuation with quotation marks are firmly established. (See here for a brief explanation of the British style.)

Commas and periods that are part of the overall sentence go inside the quotation marks, even though they aren’t part of the original quotation.

Correct

“The best investments today,” according to Smith, “are commodities and emerging-market stocks.”

Incorrect

“The best investments today”, according to Smith, “are commodities and emerging-market stocks”.

Unless they are part of the original quotation, all marks other than commas or periods are placed outside the quotation marks.

Correct

She provides a thorough list of problems in her most recent article, “Misery in Paradise”; she doesn’t provide a solution.

Incorrect

She provides a thorough list of problems in her most recent article, “Misery in Paradise;” she doesn’t provide a solution.

Correct

Wasn’t it Dickens who wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”?

Incorrect

Wasn’t it Dickens who wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times?”

For more on the proper use of multiple punctuation at the end of a sentence, see here.

Short quotations can generally be run in to the main text using quotation marks.

Example

In his novel White Noise, Don DeLillo neatly summarizes the materialist philosophy: “It’s all this activity in the brain and you don’t know what’s you as a person and what’s some neuron that just happens to fire or just happens to misfire.”

Longer quotations should be set off from the main text, and are referred to as block quotations. Because the quoted material is set off from the main text, it is not necessary to use quotation marks.

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Style varies, but at a minimum a block quotation should have a bigger left-hand margin than the main text.

In contrast to the main text, a block quotation might also have a bigger right-hand margin, be in a smaller or otherwise different font, or have reduced line spacing.

Example

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau makes the case for following one’s dreams:

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.

How do you determine if your quotation is short (allowing it to be incorporated into the main text) or long (requiring a block quotation)? It depends.

For academic writing, the MLA Handbook requires block quotations whenever the quoted material exceeds four lines, while the American Psychological Association (APA) requires block quotations for anything exceeding forty words.

The Chicago Manual of Style suggests 100 words or more as a general rule, but offers many factors other than length to be considered.

The comma is the mark most frequently used to introduce quoted material.

Examples

The flight attendant asked, “May I see your boarding pass?”

Buddha says, “Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely.”

Colon

A colon should be used when the text introducing the quoted material could stand as a sentence on its own. It is also the mark most commonly used to introduce a block quotation.

Example

In Food Rules, Michael Pollan summarizes his extensive writing about food with seven words of advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Period

A period can be used to introduce a block quotation when the introductory text stands on its own as a complete sentence. In such cases, a colon is also proper⁠—and sometimes preferable.

No punctuation

When the quoted material flows directly from your introductory text, no punctuation should be used before the quotation. A very short quotation may also be introduced without punctuation. The unpunctuated lead-in is most commonly used with run-in quotations, but it is also appropriate for introducing block quotations that flow directly from the introductory text.

Examples

  • In her closing statement, the prosecutor spoke forcefully of the defendant’s “callous disregard for human life.”
  • Though marshaling little evidence, the authors claim that “over half of British prisoners come from single-parent households.”
  • We tried to persuade him, but he said “No way.”
  • The phrase “be that as it may” appears far too often in this manuscript.

When a run-in quotation contains quotation marks within the quoted material itself, use single quotation marks in their place. When the material being quoted contains a quotation within a quotation (i.e., something in single quotation marks), use double quotation marks.

Example

The author’s final argument is less convincing: “When Brown writes of ‘interpreting the matter through a “structuralist” lens,’ he opens himself to the same criticism he made earlier in his own paper.”

Quotation marks can be used when referring to a specific word or letter. (Some writers instead use italics for this purpose, as I have in this guide.)

Example

In the previous sentence, “letter” was properly spelled with two “t”s.

As an alternative to parentheses, quotation marks can be used to enclose a translation. In this case, it is necessary to set the translation off with commas.

Example

His knowledge of Portuguese is limited to obrigado, “thank you,” and adeus, “goodbye.”

Less commonly, single quotation marks are used in place of parentheses, in which case the translation is not set off with commas. Also, any punctuation otherwise required by the structure of the sentence is placed outside the single quotation marks.

Example

His knowledge of Portuguese is limited to obrigado ‘thank you’ and adeus ‘goodbye’.

Scare quotes (also known as sneer quotes) are used to cast doubt on a word or phrase, or to emphasize that the word or phrase is being used as a euphemism.

Examples

He rarely spoke of the “incident” that caused him to leave his previous employer.

The think tank’s “analysis” of the issue left much to be desired.

When inserted in the middle of a person’s actual name, a nickname should appear in quotation marks.

Example

Henry M. “Hank” Paulson Jr.

Greg “The Shark” Norman

In informal writing, feet and inches are sometimes expressed as, for example, 5′ 10″ (read: five feet and ten inches). Technically, the mark designating feet is a prime; the mark designating inches is a double prime. These marks are available in most word processors, though many people simply use single and double quotation marks: 5’ 10”.

Periods and commas are placed outside the prime and double prime marks.

How to Use Quotation Marks in American English

Quotation marks, sometimes referred to as quotes or inverted commas, are punctuation marks (curly or “straight) most often used in pairs to identify the beginning and end of a passage attributed to another and repeated word for word.

In British English, quotation marks are often called inverted commas. Also known as quote marks, quotes, and speech marks.

In the U.S., periods and commas always go inside the quotation marks. In the U.K., periods and commas go inside the quotation marks only for a complete quoted sentence; otherwise, they go outside.

In all varieties of English, semicolons and colons go outside the quotation marks.

Most American style guides recommend using single marks to enclose a quotation that appears within another quotation. But note that the British customarily reverse this order: first using single quotation marks—or 'inverted commas'—and then turning to double quotation marks to enclose quotations within quotations.

Here are some basic guidelines for using quotation marks correctly in American English.

Use double quotation marks (” “) to enclose a direct quotation:

  • After telling an audience that young people today think work is a four-letter word, Hillary Rodham Clinton said she apologized to her daughter.
  • If a man does not keep pace with his companions, wrote Henry David Thoreau, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.

Keep in mind that direct quotations repeat a speaker's exact words. In contrast, indirect quotations are summaries or paraphrases of someone else's words. Don't use quotation marks around indirect quotations:

  • Direct quotation: Elsa said, “I'm too tired to go to choir practice. I'm heading to bed.”
  • Indirect quotation: Elsa said that she was skipping choir practice because she was tired.

Use double quotation marks to enclose the titles of songs, short stories, essays, poems, and articles:

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How to Use Quotation Marks

Quotation Marks Usage Chart

  1. 1

    Capitalize the first letter of a direct quote from a source. If you are quoting directly from a source, such as a book, article, or journal, always use one pair of quotations around the quote and capitalize the first letter of the direct quote. Do this if you are quoting a complete sentence. For example, you may write:[1]

    • Pollen states in his book, “You can eat whatever you want as long as you make it yourself.”
    • In Othello by William Shakespeare, Iago says in Act II, scene iii, “Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit and lost without deserving.”
  2. 2

    Put a comma before a full quote. Whenever you use quotation marks around a full quote, place a comma or a colon before the first, or open, quotation mark. The comma or colon does not go in the quotation mark, just before it. This will let the reader know a quote is coming. For example:

    • Shakespeare notes in his diary, “I am the poor man’s playwright.”
    • Pollen recommends, “Eat food. Mostly plants.”
  3. 3

    Lowercase quoted material that appears mid-sentence. If you are quoting a source within a sentence, not at the end of a sentence, lowercase the first letter of the quote. You can do this if you are using a partial quote of a longer quote in a sentence. For example, you may write:[2]

    • Pollen advocates for taking responsibility for one’s food choices, for eating “whatever you want as long as you make it yourself,” a tall order for some.
  4. 4

    Include punctuation in the quote inside the quotation marks. Commas, periods, exclamation marks, dashes, and question marks that appear in the quote should all go inside the quotation marks. For example:[3]

    • Othello notes, “For she has eyes and she chose me.”
    • Pollen asks the question, “Why don’t we get to know our food?”
    • The last line of the poem “Sestina: Altaforte” by Ezra Pound states, “Hell blot black for always the thought ‘Peace’!”
  5. 5

    Put quotation marks around common sayings. Familiar sayings should be demarcated with quotation marks. Cliches can also go in quotation marks. For example:[4]

    • Everyone knows the saying, “What goes in must come out.”
    • One is reminded of the familiar phrase, “It takes one to know one.”
  6. 6

    Use quotation marks to emphasize a word or phrase. These are also known as scare quotes. Scare quotes are not used often. But they can be used to emphasize a word or phrase in a sentence in a mocking or annoyed tone. For example:[5]

    • She did not want to bring up his “issue” in mixed company.
    • The “in depth discussion” of the problem felt insufficient at best.
  1. 1

    Put quotation marks around the dialogue only. Quotation marks are essential for notating dialogue, as they signal to the reader the words are being spoken. You should use quotation marks around dialogue in a novel, short story, or poem. For example:[6]

    • “Where is my cat?” the woman screamed.
    • I demanded, “Let me see her.”
  2. 2

    Lowercase the word after the quotation mark. Always lowercase the word that follows the close quotation mark, or the second quotation mark. Do this if the speaker attribution appears after the quoted phrase. For example:

    • “What time is it?” the man asked.
    • “Chop, chop,” she said.
  3. 3

    Use a comma before a speaker attribution.

What are quotation or speech marks and how do I use them?

Quotation marks—sometimes called ‘speech marks’, or more colloquially ‘quotes’—are used to indicate direct speech. Depending on where you are, the quotation mark may be different.

Australia and the United Kingdom use single quotation marks: ‘ ’

North America uses double quotation marks: “ ”

In this article, we will reference to Snooks & Co.’s Style Manual: For Authors, Editors and Printers (2002, hereafter, Style Manual)—the authority on style matters in Australia.

They recommend the use of single quotation marks (p. 112). We will illustrate how to use quotation marks for direct speech and how to punctuate quotations within quotations.

We’ll also explain some other uses for quotation marks.

In our next article, ‘How to Use Quotation Marks Correctly—Quotation Marks with Other Punctuation’, we will explain how to deal with conflicting punctuation marks—especially when ending a sentence.

Quotation Marks and Direct Speech

  • Quotation marks are used to enclose direct speech, or a direct quotation, that is less than 30 words long. Here are some examples:
  • The teacher asked, ‘Could you please hand in your books?’
  • ‘It is a sad day for humanity’, the reporter typed.

According to the Style Manual, ‘quotation marks … enclose direct quotations, whether they are sentence fragments, a sentence, or more than one sentence’ (p. 113).

Longer quotations are formatted into block quotations and are indented from the main text—they do not take quotation marks. They are introduced with a colon, not a comma.

Quotations within Quotations

The only time double quotation marks are used in British and Australia English is when quotations appear within quotations. Used in this way, the double quotation marks are important for avoiding ambiguity. See the example below:

The man stood and said, ‘It is important for me to clarify something. I said “it will be alright”, and I meant it.’

Other Uses of Quotation Marks

According to the Style Manual, use quotation marks when ‘referring to the title of an unpublished document, a chapter in a published work, an article in a periodical, an essay, a lecture, a short poem or a song’ (p. 113).

  1. Quotation marks can also be used to introduce a technical term that needs to be defined. In this case, you would only enclose it in quotation marks for its first mention:
  2. The term ‘apostrophe’ refers to a mark of punctuation that is used to signify ownership or that two words have been contracted into one.
  3. Sometimes quotation marks are used to enclose slang, colloquial words or in more formal writing:

Snapchat is a social media application (or ‘app’) that allows users to send ‘snaps’ (i.e., photographs) to other users with a timed-view mechanism.

  • They call him Anthony ‘The Man’ Mundine.
  • Quotations can also create ironic emphasis in a piece of writing. In the following example, read the word in quotation marks with a sarcastic tone:
  • The ‘teacher’ said to open our books; she didn’t look a day over 18.
  • In that example, the quotation marks indicate that the speaker doesn’t believe the teacher could be old enough to be a teacher.
  • To learn more about how quotation marks are used in conjunction with other sentence punctuation, read our next article, ‘How to Use Quotation Marks Correctly—Quotation Marks with Other Punctuation’.

Style Manual: For Authors, Editors and Printers. 2002. 6th ed. Revised by Snooks & Co. Milton, QLD: John Wiley & Sons.

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