How to use quotations

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”’.

Scribbr editors not only correct grammar and spelling mistakes, but also strengthen your writing by making sure your paper is free of vague language, redundant words and awkward phrasing.

How to Use Quotations How to Use Quotations

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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

No-nonsense guide: How to use quotation marks

Punctuation can be a pain. The 2016 AP Stylebook dedicates 11 dense pages to explaining its intricacies—and the Chicago Manual of Style’s punctuation chapter (yes, chapter) stretches across more than 40 pages.

Quotation marks are a common victim of abuse. Confusion abounds, from the use of Dr. Evil–style “air quotes” around “any word” the author wants to “emphasize” to uncertainty around comma and period placement (inside or outside the quotation marks?).

Leff Communications is here to help. We offer a handy list of no-nonsense rules that, as with our other posts on grammar and style, are the perfect passive-aggressive thing to send to a coworker who thinks every word is ironic enough to warrant quotation marks. These rules apply regardless of the style guide you use (AP, Chicago style, etc.).

Single or double?

In American English,* we use double quotation marks.

“I’m going to bed,” she said. (NOT: ‘I’m going to bed,’ she said.)

Ending commas and periods

In American English,* the period and the comma always go inside the quotation marks, regardless of whether they were part of the original quotation. Let me repeat that for those in the back: put the commas and periods inside the quotation marks.

“I really appreciate a well-formed sentence,” he announced. “It gives me all the feels.”

If the quoted material ends in a question mark or an exclamation point, don’t add a period. “Timber!” (NOT “Timber!.”)

Other ending punctuation

  • Put other marks (dashes, exclamation points, question marks, and semicolons) inside the quotation marks if they apply to the quoted matter but outside if they apply to the whole sentence.
  • Twain wrote, “If books are not good company, where will I find it?”
  • BUT Was it Twain who wrote, “Always obey your parents when they are present”?

Quotes within quotes

This is where single quotation marks come into play. When you’re placing quotes within quotes, alternate between double and single quotation marks. But still be sure to start with double quotation marks.

“I’m not sure what she means by ‘quantamental investing,’” he said.

Note that the comma comes before the single quotation mark, and there is no space between the single quotation mark and the double quotation mark.

Introductory punctuation

  1. Commas and colons can be used to introduce quoted materials.
  2. He wrote, “The economy’s growth trajectory is strong.”
  3. His book is summarized in its first sentence: “Our economy has nothing to fear from environmental regulation.”

No introductory punctuation

  • Often, quoted material flows directly from your introductory text and no punctuation is needed.
  • Though he offered little evidence of their crimes, his call to “round up all the scoundrels, lock them up, and throw away the key” has riled the public.
  • Shakespeare coined the phrases “brevity is the soul of wit” and “good riddance,” among many others.


Do not use quotation marks to emphasize a word. Just don’t. It’s wrong.

The strength of your words should make any formatting unnecessary, but if you really want to emphasize something, use boldface or italics. Underlining damages readability, and caps lock is inappropriate in running text (and too yell-y).


You can, however, use quotation marks around a word or words used in an ironical sense.

The “fund-raiser” was really a scam to line the alderman’s own pockets.

Q&A articles

  1. Quotation marks are not required in a Q&A that identifies questions and answers with “Q:” and “A:.”
  2. Q: What makes a great leader?
  3. A: The ability to adapt.

*British English

  • Note that British English uses single quotation marks in the same way we use double and places all punctuation—including periods and commas—outside the closing quotation mark.
  • ‘I’m going to bed’, she said.
  • This is un-American and should be avoided at all costs.

Want to learn more?

We read the style guides so you don’t have to. Check out our definitive guide to hyphens, em dashes, and en dashes, learn what bogus writing rules you can ditch, and spruce up your writing with four of our favorite schemes.

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.


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


“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.


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


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


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


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.


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.

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.


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.

See also:  Will commercial companies be the next to take on space travel?

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


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.”


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.


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


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.


  • 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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Using Quotations

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The focus of your essay should be on your understanding of the topic. If you include too much quotation in your essay, you will crowd out your own ideas. Consider quoting a passage from one of your sources if any of the following conditions holds:

  1. The language of the passage is particularly elegant or powerful or memorable.
  2. You wish to confirm the credibility of your argument by enlisting the support of an authority on your topic.
  3. The passage is worthy of further analysis.
  4. You wish to argue with someone else’s position in considerable detail.

Condition 3 is especially useful in essays for literature courses.

If an argument or a factual account from one of your sources is particularly relevant to your paper but does not deserve to be quoted verbatim, consider

  • paraphrasing the passage if you wish to convey the points in the passage at roughly the same level of detail as in the original
  • summarizing the relevant passage if you wish to sketch only the most essential points in the passage

Note that most scientific writing relies on summary rather than quotation.

The same is true of writing in those social sciences—such as experimental psychology—that rely on controlled studies and emphasize quantifiable results.

(Almost all of the examples in this handout follow the MLA system of citation, which is widely used in the humanities and in those social sciences with a less quantitative approach.)

Visit our handout on paraphrase and summary.

Why is it important to identify my sources?

Quotations come from somewhere, and your reader will want to know where. Don’t just parachute quotations into your essay without providing at least some indication of who your source is. Letting your reader know exactly which authorities you rely on is an advantage: it shows that you have done your research and that you are well acquainted with the literature on your topic.

In the following passage, the parenthetical reference to the author does not adequately identify the source:

The ancient Greeks never saw a need to justify wars that were waged outside the walls of the city state.

“Hence we must turn to Roman antiquity to find the first justification of war, together with the first notion that there are just and unjust wars” (Arendt 12). Yet the Roman conception of a just war differs sharply from more modern conceptions.

When you are making decisions about how to integrate quotations into your essay, you might imagine that you are reading the essay out loud to an audience. You would not read the parenthetical note. Without some sort of introduction, your audience would not even know that the statement about Roman antiquity was a quotation, let alone where the quotation came from.

How do I introduce a short quotation?

The following offers just one way of introducing the above quotation:

The ancient Greeks never saw a need to justify wars that were waged outside the walls of the city state.

As Hannah Arendt points out in On Revolution, “we must turn to Roman antiquity to find the first justification of war, together with the first notion that there are just and unjust wars” (12). Yet the Roman conception of a just war differs sharply from more modern conceptions.

Since the quotation is relatively short, the brief introduction works.

You could, however, strengthen your analysis by demonstrating the significance of the passage within your own argument. Introducing your quotation with a full sentence would help you assert greater control over the material:

The ancient Greeks never saw a need to justify wars that were waged outside the walls of the city state.

In On Revolution, Hannah Arendt points to the role the Romans played in laying the foundation for later thinking about the ethics of waging war: “we must turn to Roman antiquity to find the first justification of war, together with the first notion that there are just and unjust wars” (12). Yet the Roman conception of a just war differs sharply from more modern conceptions.

In these two examples, observe the forms of punctuation used to introduce the quotations.

When you introduce a quotation with a full sentence, you should always place a colon at the end of the introductory sentence.

When you introduce a quotation with an incomplete sentence, you usually place a comma after the introductory phrase. However, it has become grammatically acceptable to use a colon rather than a comma:

Arendt writes: “we must turn to Roman antiquity to find the first justification of war . . .”

If you are blending the quotation into your own sentence using the conjuction that, do not use any punctuation at all:

Arendt writes that “we must turn to Roman antiquity to find the first justification of war . . .”

If you are not sure whether to punctuate your introduction to a quotation, mentally remove the quotation marks, and ask yourself whether any punctuation is still required.

Finally, note that you can deviate from the common pattern of introduction followed by quotation. Weaving the phrases of others into your own prose offers a stylistically compelling way of maintaining control over your source material. Moreover, the technique of weaving can help you to produce a tighter argument. The following condenses twelve lines from Arendt’s essay to fewer than two:

What Arendt refers to as the “well-known realities of power politics” began to lose their moral legitimacy when the First World War unleashed “the horribly destructive” forces of warfare “under conditions of modern technology” (13).

What verbs and phrases can I use to introduce my quotations?

Familiarize yourself with the various verbs commonly used to introduce quotations. Here is a partial list:

argues writes points out concludes comments notes
maintains suggests insists observes counters asserts
states claims demonstrates says explains reveals

Each verb has its own nuance. Make sure that the nuance matches your specific aims in introducing the quotation.

There are other ways to begin quotations. Here are three common phrasings:

In the words of X, . . .

According to X, . . .

In X‘s view, . . .

Vary the way you introduce quotations to avoid sounding monotonous. But never sacrifice precision of phrasing for the sake of variety.

Visit the U of T Writing Website’s page on verbs for referring to sources.

How do I introduce a long quotation?

If your quotation is lengthy, you should almost always introduce it with a full sentence that helps capture how it fits into your argument. If your quotation is longer than four lines, do not place it in quotation marks. Instead, set it off as a block quotation:

Although Dickens never shied away from the political controversies of his time, he never, in Orwell’s view, identified himself with any political program:

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The truth is that Dickens’ criticism of society is almost exclusively moral. Hence his lack of any constructive suggestion anywhere in his work.

He attacks the law, parliamentary government, the educational system and so forth, without ever clearly suggesting what he would put in their places.

Of course it is not necessarily the business of a novelist, or a satirist, to make constructive suggestions, but the point is that Dickens’ attitude is at bottom not even destructive. . . . For in reality his target is not so much society as human nature. (416)

The full-sentence introduction to a block quotation helps demonstrate your grasp of the source material, and it adds analytical depth to your essay. But the introduction alone is not enough. Long quotations almost invariably need to be followed by extended analysis.

Never allow the quotation to do your work for you. Usually you will want to keep the quotation and your analysis together in the same paragraph. Hence it is a good idea to avoid ending a paragraph with a quotation.

But if your analysis is lengthy, you may want to break it into several paragraphs, beginning afresh after the quotation.

Once in a while you can reverse the pattern of quotation followed by analysis. A felicitously worded or an authoritative quotation can, on occasion, nicely clinch an argument.

  • There is some flexibility in the rule that block quotations are for passages of four lines or more: a shorter passage can be represented as a block quotation if it is important enough to stand on its own. For example, when you are quoting two or more lines of poetry, you will probably want to display the verse as it appears on the page:
  • In the opening heroic couplet of The Rape of the Lock, Pope establishes the unheroic nature of the poem’s subject matter:
  • What dire offense from amorous causes springs,
    What mighty contests rise from trivial things. (1-2)
  • If you choose to integrate verse into your own sentence, then use a slash surrounded by spaces to indicate line breaks:
  • In Eliot’s The Waste Land, the symbols of a mythic past lie buried in “A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, / And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief” (22-23).

How do I let my reader know I’ve altered my sources?

If you need to alter your quotations in any way, be sure to indicate just how you have done so. If you remove text, then replace the missing text with an ellipsis—three periods surrounded by spaces:

In The Mirror and the Lamp, Abrams comments that the “diversity of aesthetic theories . . . makes the task of the historian a very difficult one” (5).

If the omitted text occurs between sentences, then put a space after the period at the end of sentence, and follow that by an ellipsis. In all, there will be four periods. (See Orwell on Dickens, above.)

Many people overuse ellipses at the beginning and end of quotations. Use an ellipsis in either place only when your reader might otherwise mistake an incomplete sentence for a complete one:

Abraham Lincoln begins “The Gettysburg Address” with a reminder of the act upon which the United States was founded: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation . . .” (1).

Do not use an ellipsis if you are merely borrowing a phrase from the original:

In “The Gettysburg Address” Abraham Lincoln reminds his listeners of the principles that had inspired the creation of “a new nation” (1).

If you need to alter or replace text from the original, enclose the added text within square brackets. You may, for example, need to alter text to ensure that pronouns agree with their antecedents. Do not write,

Gertrude asks her son Hamlet to “cast your nighted colour off” (1.2.68).

Square brackets allow you to absorb Gertrude’s words into your own statement:

Gertrude asks her son Hamlet to “cast [his] nighted colour off” (1.2.68).

Alternatively, you can include Gertrude’s original phrasing in its entirety as long as the introduction to the quotation is not fully integrated with the quotation. The introduction can be an independent clause:

Gertrude implores her son Hamlet to stop mourning the death of his father: “cast your nighted colour off” (I.ii.68).

Or it can be an incomplete sentence:

Gertrude implores her son Hamlet, “cast your nighted colour off” (1.2.68).

How is punctuation affected by quotation?

You must preserve the punctuation of a quoted passage, or else you must enclose in square brackets any punctuation marks that are your own.

There is, however, one important exception to this rule. You are free to alter the punctuation just before a closing quotation mark. You may need to do so to ensure that your sentences are fully grammatical.

Do not worry about how the original sentence needs to be punctuated before that quotation mark; think about how your sentence needs to be punctuated. Note, for example, that if you are using the MLA system of referencing, a sentence always ends after the parenthetical reference.

Do not also include a period before closing the quotation mark, even if there is a period there in the original. For example, do not write,

According to Schama, Louis XVI remained calm during his trial: “The Terror had no power to frighten an old man of seventy-two.” (822).

  1. The period before the closing quotation mark must go:
  2. According to Schama, Louis XVI remained calm during his trial: “The Terror had no power to frighten an old man of seventy-two” (822).
  3. However, if you are using footnotes, the period remains inside the quotation mark, while the footnote number goes outside:
  4. According to Schama, Louis XVI remained calm during his trial: “The Terror had no power to frighten an old man of seventy-two.”1
  5. In Canada and the United States, commas and periods never go outside a quotation mark. They are always absorbed as part of the quotation, whether they belong to you or to the author you are quoting:
  6. “I am a man / more sinned against than sinning,” Lear pronounces in Act 3, Scene 2 (59-60).
  7. However, stronger forms of punctuation such as question marks and exclamation marks go inside the quotation if they belong to the author, and outside if they do not:

Bewildered, Lear asks the fool, “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” (1.4.227).

Why is Lear so rash as to let his “two daughters’ dowers digest the third” (1.1.127)?

Finally, use single quotation marks for all quotations within quotations:

When Elizabeth reveals that her younger sister has eloped, Darcy drops his customary reserve: “‘I am grieved, indeed,’ cried Darcy, ‘grieved—shocked'” (Austen 295).

English Composition 1

Using Quotations Quiz

You should never have a quotation standing alone as a complete sentence, or, worse, as an incomplete sentence, in your writing. The quotation will seem disconnected from your own thoughts and from the flow of your sentences. Ways to integrate quotations properly into your own sentences, with correct use of punctuation, are explained below.

There are at least four ways to integrate quotations.

1. Introduce the quotation with a complete sentence and a colon

Example: In “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” Thoreau states directly his purpose for going into the woods: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Example: Thoreau's philosophy might be summed up best by his repeated request for people to ignore the insignificant details of life: “Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”

Example: Thoreau ends his essay with a metaphor: “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.”

This is an easy rule to remember: if you use a complete sentence to introduce a quotation, you need a colon after the sentence. Be careful not to confuse a colon (:) with a semicolon (;)

Proper Punctuation – Quotes

When you’re writing something that is a direct quote, meaning that it is the exact words that someone spoke, you need to use double quotation marks. Using them properly can be a little tricky, so remember these rules.

  1. If you start by telling who said it, use a comma and then the first quotation mark.
    • Taylor said, “You can’t be serious.”
  2. If you put the quote first and then tell who said it, use a comma at the end of the sentence, and then the second quotation mark.
    • “I had no idea it was so late already,” said Jenna.
  3. Punctuation always goes inside the quotation marks if it is a direct quote. If you use an exclamation point of a question mark, do not use a comma.
    • “It’s great!” he exclaimed.
    • She asked her mother quietly, “Is it time for bed?”
  4. If you quote someone within a quote, use single quotation marks and follow the same rules.
    • He began to tell us the story, “As soon as I walked in the room the principal said, ´You’ve been here a lot lately John,´ so I just sat there quietly.”
  5. If you are writing a story, every time a new speaker is talking, start a new paragraph.
    • “Good morning,” I said as I came down the stairs.
    • “Good morning,” said my mother.
    • “Is it nice outside?” I asked
    • “It’s a beautiful day,” she answered with a smile.

Time4Writing provides practice in this area. Try a sample resource from our Middle School Essay Writing course or browse other related courses.

Dialogue in Narratives

There are two types of dialogue:
direct and indirect

Direct dialogue is speech using the character’s exact words. In this case, quotation marks are used.

  • Indirect dialogue is a second-hand report of something that was said or written but NOT the exact words in their original form.
  • In this week’s lesson, you will focus more on the writing of direct dialogue.
  • There are some rules to follow when writing direct dialogue in your narratives:
  • Rule #1: Use quotation marks to indicate the words that are spoken by the characters.
See also:  Misplaced modifiers

Example: “Help me!” exclaimed the little girl.

Rule #2: Always begin a new paragraph when the speaker changes.


“I am coming home,” Sue announced. “I am really tired and can’t work anymore.”

  1. “Okay, I think you should do that,” her husband agreed.
  2. Rule #3: Make sure the reader knows who is doing the talking.
  3. Rule #4: Use correct punctuation marks and capitalization.

Example: “May I buy a new pair of shoes?” Lauren asked her mom.

  • Note that the quotation marks are outside the end punctuation of the quote; the rest of the sentence has its own end punctuation.
  • If the quote is not a question or exclamation, use a comma and not a period before the second quotation marks.
  • “I bought a new jacket yesterday,” Tammy said.

Using Quotation Marks // Purdue Writing Lab


A rundown of the general rules of when and where to use quotation marks.

The primary function of quotation marks is to set off and represent exact language (either spoken or written) that has come from somebody else. The quotation mark is also used to designate speech acts in fiction and sometimes poetry.

Since you will most often use them when working with outside sources, successful use of quotation marks is a practical defense against accidental plagiarism and an excellent practice in academic honesty.

The following rules of quotation mark use are the standard in the United States, although it may be of interest that usage rules for this punctuation do vary in other countries.

The following covers the basic use of quotation marks. For details and exceptions consult the separate sections of this guide.

Direct Quotations

Direct quotations involve incorporating another person's exact words into your own writing.

  1. Quotation marks always come in pairs. Do not open a quotation and fail to close it at the end of the quoted material.
  2. Capitalize the first letter of a direct quote when the quoted material is a complete sentence.

    Mr. Johnson, who was working in his field that morning, said, “The alien spaceship appeared right before my own two eyes.”

  3. Do not use a capital letter when the quoted material is a fragment or only a piece of the original material's complete sentence.

    Although Mr. Johnson has seen odd happenings on the farm, he stated that the spaceship “certainly takes the cake” when it comes to unexplainable activity.

  4. If a direct quotation is interrupted mid-sentence, do not capitalize the second part of the quotation.

    “I didn't see an actual alien being,” Mr. Johnson said, “but I sure wish I had.”

  5. In all the examples above, note how the period or comma punctuation always comes before the final quotation mark. It is important to realize also that when you are using MLA or some other form of documentation, this punctuation rule may change.

    When quoting text with a spelling or grammar error, you should transcribe the error exactly in your own text.

    However, also insert the term sic in italics directly after the mistake, and enclose it in brackets. Sic is from the Latin, and translates to “thus,” “so,” or “just as that.

    ” The word tells the reader that your quote is an exact reproduction of what you found, and the error is not your own.

    Mr. Johnson says of the experience, “It's made me reconsider the existence of extraterestials [sic].”

  6. Quotations are most effective if you use them sparingly and keep them relatively short. Too many quotations in a research paper will get you accused of not producing original thought or material (they may also bore a reader who wants to know primarily what YOU have to say on the subject).

Indirect Quotations

Indirect quotations are not exact wordings but rather rephrasings or summaries of another person's words. In this case, it is not necessary to use quotation marks. However, indirect quotations still require proper citations, and you will be committing plagiarism if you fail to do so.

Mr. Johnson, a local farmer, reported last night that he saw an alien spaceship on his own property.

Many writers struggle with when to use direct quotations versus indirect quotations. Use the following tips to guide you in your choice.

Use direct quotations when the source material uses language that is particularly striking or notable. Do not rob such language of its power by altering it.

Martin Luther King Jr. believed that the end of slavery was important and of great hope to millions of slaves done horribly wrong.

The above should never stand in for:

Martin Luther King Jr. said of the Emancipation Proclamation, “This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.”

Use an indirect quotation (or paraphrase) when you merely need to summarize key incidents or details of the text.

Use direct quotations when the author you are quoting has coined a term unique to her or his research and relevant within your own paper.

When to use direct quotes versus indirect quotes is ultimately a choice you'll learn a feeling for with experience. However, always try to have a sense for why you've chosen your quote. In other words, never put quotes in your paper simply because your teacher says, “You must use quotes.”

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.

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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