Quotation Marks – Correct Use, Rules & Examples

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Quotation-marks-Definition

Quotation marks or inverted commas are used for several purposes in English writing. We shall explore the correct use of these punctuation marks in this guide.

Quotation Marks – In a Nutshell

  • Quotation marks can either be single or double.
  • The use of single and double quote marks will differ depending on the version of English you are using (American or British).
  • Punctuation marks introducing the quote are always placed outside the quotation marks, but sentence-ending punctuation marks may or may not be placed within the quote marks.

Definition: Quotation marks

These punctuation marks are mostly used to represent direct speech. They can also imply alternative meaning or represent the titles of books or other works.

When to use quotation marks

There are two types of quotation marks: Single (‘…’) quotes and double (“…”) quotes. In American and British English, these two punctuation marks are used differently.

Single quotation marks

These punctuation marks are mostly used in British English, and they can indicate direct speech. They are commonly used for quotes within quotes in American English. Here are some examples:

Examples:

  • He said, ‘The party will be on Saturday.’ (British English)
  • Daniel told me, “Mike said, ‘The party is on Saturday.’” (American English)

Double quotation marks

The use of these punctuation marks differs depending on whether you are using American English or British English. In American English, they usually depict direct speech. In British English, these marks are commonly used for quotes within quotes. Here are some examples to illustrate the difference:

Examples:

  • James told Mary, “I think we have a class today.” (American English)
  • Mary told me, ‘James said, “I think we have a class today.”’1

Quotation mark rules

When using these punctuation marks, you will need to take note of the following rules.

Quotations and capitalization

If you are quoting a complete sentence, the first word after the quotation has to be capitalized. This rule applies even if the quote is in the middle of a sentence. Here are some examples:

  • Bob asked, “When is the doctor coming?”
  • “I went to church in the morning,” Joe said.

You will not need to capitalize the sentence if you are only quoting a phrase. For example:

  • He described the room as “dirty and suitable only for pigs.”
  • Her daughter banged on the door and shouted that she was “tired of living in this house.”

When you split the quoted text, you will not need to capitalize the second part of the sentence. For example:

  • “I haven’t had anything to eat for two days,” Mike said, “except maybe for an apple.”
  • “I said a lot of embarrassing things,” Mike noted, “but I was under anesthesia.”

You should take note of the use of commas. After the initial quote, you will use the comma within the quotation mark. In the second part of the quotation, the comma has to be outside the quotation mark. However, the period or full stop will be placed within the quotation mark.2

Quotation marks and other punctuation marks

Punctuation marks that introduce quotes are never placed within the quotation marks, but the rules are different for punctuation marks that end the quotes. In American English, commas and periods are always placed within the quotation marks. However, in the UK, commas and periods or full stops are only placed in the quotation marks if the quote is a full sentence or if the punctuation marks are part of the quotation.

For example:

American English James said the meal was “cold and inedible.”
British English He referred to the woman as “pretty and sociable”, but he didn’t want to pursue a relationship with her.

In both American and British English, colons, semicolons, and dashes are placed outside the quotation marks.3

Take a look at these examples:

James called her mother ‘wicked’; she didn’t feed or clothe him for years.
These are the items on ‘John’s traveling checklist’- shorts, T-shirts, socks, and a smartphone.
She said she would ‘come dressed for the party’- she never showed up.

When using question marks and exclamation points, you only need to place them in the quotation marks if they are part of the quote.

For example:

The girl asked, “Can I taste the food?”
Did she really say, “Bailey is allergic to meat”?
She actually said, “Bailey can’t have any meat”!

Quotes within quotes

The punctuation of quotes within quotes will vary depending on the version of English you are using. In American English, you have to use single quotation marks for quotes within quotes. On the other hand, you need to use double quotation marks for the same purpose in British English.4

Quotation marks – Examples

Example:

  • Dan said, “‘War is peace’ is my favorite quote from the book.” (American English)
  • Dan said, ‘”War is peace” is my favorite quote from the book.’ (British English)

FAQs

These punctuation marks are primarily used to represent the exact language used by someone else.5

Double quotation marks are commonly used to indicate direct speech, while single quote marks are used to enclose quotes within quotes or quotes within headlines.

These punctuation marks are only placed in the quotation marks if they are part of the quote.

You can use double quotation marks for the main quote and single quotation marks for the quote within the quote.

Sources

1 PurdueUniversity. “How to Use Quotation Marks.” Accessed September, 25, 2022. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/punctuation/quotation_marks/.

2 Grammarly. “Quotation Marks: Rules and Examples.” September 16, 2022. https://www.grammarly.com/blog/quotation-marks/ .

Grammarly. “Duking it Out: Parentheses vs. Dash.” Accessed September 25, 2022. https://www.grammarly.com/blog/duking-it-out-parentheses-vs-dash/.

4 University Writing and Speaking Center. “British vs. American English.” Accessed September 25, 2022. https://www.unr.edu/writing-speaking-center/student-resources/writing-speaking-resources/british-american-english.

5 The Saurus. “What Are Quotation Marks (“) And How Do You Use Them?.” March 3, 2022. https://www.thesaurus.com/e/grammar/use-quotation-marks/.