Quotation Marks

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Double quotation marks

Double quotation marks are used to surround a direct quotation, identify a scare quote, highlight or use a word as an example and surround a title. Remember that all quotation marks come in pairs, so if you have one at the beginning of something, you must have one at the end, too. A scare quote highlights a word to show that you do not really believe the meaning in the context within which it appears, or the word is highlighted so show sarcasm or derision. Highlighted words, especially when you want to bring attention to the word itself instead of the word’s meaning, are offset with quotation marks. When using quotation marks surrounding titles, make sure to consider any official style guide that applies, as each has a preference that dictates if and how quotation marks are used. Consider the following examples to see the correct placement of the quotation marks:

Direct quotation: John F. Kennedy once said, “A child miseducated [sic]is a child lost.”

Scare quote: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 guaranteed “equality” to all through making discrimination illegal.

Highlighted word: When you use “well” in a sentence, make sure you determine whether it is used as an adjective or an adverb.

Title with quotes: “For One More Day” by Mitch Albom was a quick and excellent read.

Single quotation marks

Single quotation marks are used when a direct quotation has a quote within it. The main quote is surrounded in double quotations, and the quote within the quotation is surrounded with single quotation marks. The single quotation marks are nestled within the double ones, and a space is generally used to separate the single quotation mark from the double one at the end of the sentence or quote. Consider the below example to see the proper usage:

Example 1: The director stated, “She said, ‘the new policy would not go into effect until the new year.’ ”

Question marks and exclamation points

When a sentence ends with a quotation and a question mark or exclamation point is used for the sentence-ending punctuation, logic dictates where the punctuation is placed in the United States. If the punctuation is part of the quotation itself, the quotation marks go inside the quotation marks. However, if the punctuation applies to the sentence as a whole, but not to the quotation, the punctuation goes outside the quotation marks. In addition, when the question applies to the sentence as a whole but the quotation is a complete sentence, the period is omitted in favor of the question mark or exclamation point; the stronger punctuation wins. Consider the below examples:

Example 2: What are your thoughts on the movie “A Man on a Ledge”?

Example 3: “I’m good” or “I’m well” are the two most common responses when someone asks “how are you?”

Commas and periods

Convention, rather than logic, dictates the placement of commas and periods surround quotation marks. Both of these punctuation marks are almost always placed on the inside of quotation marks in American English.

Example 4: When the school principal stood to speak, the student mumbled, “Oh great, we’re in trouble.”

This is true even when the quotation is only one word.

Example 5: To start the machine, you must follow the instructions by hitting the button marked “start.”

One exception is when the quotation marks are surrounding a single letter or number; in which case, the punctuation goes outside the quotation marks.

Example 6: The location of the spoils is usually marked on a treasure map with “X”.

An exception that does not require the comma is when a short direct quotation that is a fragment or phrase fits within the flow of your sentence.

Example 7: When the going gets tough, my mother always says to “grin and bear it.”

Following any form of “to say” (say, says, said), a comma is used to precede the quotation in most situations.

Example 8: My father always says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

When the quotation follows an independent sentence but the quotation could serve as part of the same sentence, use a colon to separate the independent sentence from the quotation.

Example 9: Sharon’s favorite movie quote is from a Tom Cruise movie: “You can’t handle the truth.”

When the parenthetical attribution of speech falls within the middle of a quotation, set it off with commas in the same way you would any parenthetical information.

Example 10: “It is not important,” she said, “because no one seems to care.”

When it makes sense to end the sentence and start a new one when a quotation is split by a parenthetical attribution of speech, use the appropriate sentence-ending punctuation between the two sentences.

Example 11: “It is harder than you think to create an interest in the cause,” she said. “Most people are too busy to donate that much time.”

When providing information that is not spoken aloud, such as an internal thought, quotations are options. Remember to remain consistent through the entire piece with whichever option you choose.

Example 12: Not again, Steve thought to himself. OR “Not again,” Steve thought to himself.

For parenthetical citing and quotation mark placement, review the applicable style guide that applies to ensure the proper placement of quotation marks and punctuation.