Quotation Marks ” ” What Are They and When Do We Use Them?

What are quotation marks? What is (” “) called? We’ve already covered single quotation marks in another article, so we won’t be covering those again much here. What we haven’t done here is look at how and when to use double quotation marks, American vs. British usage of quotation marks, common mistakes and how to avoid them, and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Quotation Marks ” “

What Are Quotation Marks

Quotation marks or double quotation marks, (” “) are a type of punctuation used to mark an exactly replicated word or statement. This can be a phrase by a person or character, the title of a work, or to indicate or emphasize the alternate use of a word. Quotation marks take the appearance of a set of inverted commas and are used in pairs consisting of an opening quotation mark and a closing one.

There are two major sets of rules regarding quotation marks: British and American.

Key Points to Remember with Double Quotation Marks

Double quotation marks are the most common quotation marks that we use in American English. And we use them for two principal reasons.

Direct Quotes

If we are quoting what somebody said directly, we use double quotation marks. For example:

  • “Life is good,” he said.
  • John said, “It’s a beautiful day to go fishing.”
  • “Scratch, come here boy!” Dan shouted.

Scare Quotes

Scare quotes are used to show irony, sarcasm, or cast doubt on something within a sentence. Essentially, we use scare quotes to show that we mean the opposite of what we say, or we doubt something. Like this:

  • The warmer weather is due to “global warming” apparently. – This would show that the writer doubts the existence of global warming.
  • Kyle was so “funny” it was painful to watch. – Here you are showing that Kyle was anything but funny.
  • School was supposed to be a “safe haven”. – This shows that even if school is supposed to be a safe haven, it isn’t for this writer.

Single Quotation Marks

Although we have already covered it in another article, it’s also important to point out that we use single quotation marks for two reasons only, so we should never use double quotation marks in the following scenarios:

  • To show a quote within a quote.
  • To show a quote in a headline of an article.

When to Use Quotation Marks

Quotation Marks Rules

To Show Speech or Writing by a Character

Quotation marks are used to indicate speech or writing by another person in your writing. This can be seen in the following examples:

  • Harry sighed. I didn’t mean to break the window.
  • I don’t want to eat dinner, said Judith.

At times, a longer quotation, or block quote, may be needed that takes up an entire paragraph(s). Quotation marks should not be used in these cases. Instead, special formatting, font, or indenting is used to emphasize the quote.

To Give Someone a Special Description

Quotation marks are also used to indicate unique or unusual descriptors for a person or item, commonly in the form of a nickname or general identifier for an unnamed item.

Examples:

  • His name is Ben Impossible Jones.
  • The satellite sent back pictures of some weird fuzz on the star.

In the first example, the nickname “Impossible” is a unique descriptor for Ben Jones. He is not known by that nickname to everyone, and it is an uncommon identifier for Ben.

In the second example, “fuzz” is used as a placeholder for a yet unnamed attribute of the mentioned star. Literal fuzz was not seen in the images transmitted by the satellite, but something describable by the word “fuzz” was seen and “fuzz” is used as a filler until that thing can be named.

To Emphasize a Word

Quotation marks are used to indicate an unusual expression of a word, an alternate description of a common word, or any other way in which the word differs from standard usage.

Example:

  • He had a chat with the neighbors yesterday.

Here, the word “chat” is used as a euphemism. He didn’t actually chat with the neighbors; he more likely scolded or argued with them.

To Notate Smaller Sections in a Larger Composition

Short and complete pieces such as poems and short stories use quotation marks. With these two exceptions, works that do not stand on their own, but belong to a larger composition, such as book chapters or articles in a newspaper, conventionally use quotation marks.

Examples:

  • The first chapter of The Hobbit is titled An Unexpected Visit. (Book Chapter)
  • Creep is a song on Radiohead’s 1993 album, Pablo Honey. (Song in an Album)
  • The final episode of The Sopranos is aptly named Made in America. (Individual TV episode)
  • The Beast from the East was one of the BBC’s most viewed articles in 2018. (Article in a Newspaper)

Special Case: Single Quotation Marks within a Passage Enclosed by Double Quotation Marks

At times, it may be necessary to have a quote within another quoted passage. This is commonly seen when characters are re-quoting themselves or other characters, but may occur for any of the four reasons noted above. When such a scenario occurs, the primary quote is marked with double quotation marks as per usual and the secondary quote, or quote within a quote, is emphasized with single quotation marks.

Examples:

  • I didn’t actually mean it when I said ‘right now.(Re-quote)
  • Your essay on the literary influence of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland is due tomorrow, said the teacher. (Reference to a Work in a Quote)

Learn more about how to quote a quote properly in American and British English. 

When to Use Quotation Marks | Picture

Quotation MarksPin

American vs. British Usage of Quotation Marks

Quotes Within Quotes

According to American convention, the main quote is marked by the double quotation sign and the second quote, or quote being quoted, is marked with the single quote sign. The opposite is true in the British convention. Here, the primary quote is marked with the single quote and the second marked with the double quote. It is worth noting, however, that the American style is becoming more popular nowadays and the use of double quotations for initial quotes is increasingly found in British media.

Examples:

  • Don’t forget, said John. As Mr. B said,it’s mandarin, not margarine. (American)
  • Don’t forget, said John. As MR. B said, it’s mandarin, not margarine“‘. (British)

Here, the main quote is what John is saying and is marked by double quotations (American) and single quotations (British). The secondary quote “it’s mandarin, not margarine” is being quoted by John and receives single quotations (American) and double quotations (British) within the main quotes.

Full Stop Quoting vs. Logical Quoting

Within American English, punctuation marks such as periods and commas are generally included within the quotation mark whether they are part of the original quote or not. This practice is known as “full stop quoting”. In British English, on the other hand, commas and periods are kept outside the quotation mark if they are not part of the sentence, a practice known as “logical quoting”.

Examples:

  • He insisted that the steak had been burned beyond recognizability. (American)
  • He insisted that the steak had been burned beyond recognizability. (British)

Here, the phrase “burned beyond recognizability” is not a full quote and so the end punctuation, or period, differs depending on whether American or British rules are used.

Examples:

  • He told her, I don’t know. (American)
  • He told her, I don’t know. (British)

Here, the phrase “I don’t know” is a complete quote and hence the end punctuation/ period is included within the quotation marks in both American and British styles.

Other Punctuation Marks

In both styles, the use of question marks or exclamation points depends on the context. The sentence:

  • What do you mean, I don’t know?

is valid for both American and British styles.

There are many conventions regarding the proper use of quotation marks in both British and American punctuation styles. At the end of the day, however, punctuation is a stylistic element. While there are times in which formal and established rules ought to be followed, there are also opportunities for the author to wield punctuation as a creative tool in crafting their characters and story.

American and British Uses of Quotation Marks | Picture

Differences Between American and British Uses of Quotation MarksPin

Quotation Marks Mistakes and How to Avoid

Honestly, the most common reason for a mistake when using quotation marks is punctuating them incorrectly. Scare quotes rarely suffer these same mistakes as direct quotes do, so we will focus solely on direct quotes for this next section. Hopefully, by highlighting the common mistakes here, and showing the correct way, you will avoid making them too.

  • Incorrect“I’m scared.” John said.
  • Correct“I’m scared,” John said.

In the above example, we would not place a period within the quotation marks because we haven’t finished the sentence yet. Remember, full stops or periods are a form of end punctuation, so we wouldn’t use them within the quotation marks because we haven’t finished yet. Instead, a comma is placed within the quotation marks, and then the period comes at the end.

  • IncorrectJohn said, “I’m scared”.
  • CorrectJohn said, “I’m scared.”

Now, just as the comma goes within the quotation marks before we finish the sentence, a period should appear within the quotation marks when the entire sentence is complete. It would be incorrect to place the period outside the quotation marks in this example because the sentence is now finished.

  • IncorrectHe had said the children were being “Loud and annoying,” before he left.
  • CorrectHe had said the children were being “loud and annoying,” before he left.

Now that we are using quotation marks to show part of what somebody said within this sentence, we do not need to capitalize the first letter. We do, however, still need to punctuate the quote properly for the rest of the sentence to continue, so a comma is placed again, inside the quotation marks.

  • IncorrectWas it typical for John to mutter, “it must be here somewhere?”
  • CorrectWas it typical for John to mutter, “it must be here somewhere”?

In the above example, we must place the question mark outside of the quotation marks because the question applies to the entire sentence, not just the quote. If it only applied to the quote, then a question mark would appear inside the quote only.

Quotation Marks Quiz

Questions

As we’ve already provided a quiz on single quotation marks, the following will focus solely on double quotation marks. Read the following sentences and decide if they are correct or not, if you think they are incorrect, how would you correct them?

  1. Karen said, “It’s not easy doing this job, you know”.
  2. The local business owner is believed to have called the thieves “evil and cruel,” as they ran away.
  3. Jenny asked, “Why do you always have to be like that?”

Answers

1.Incorrect.

In dialogue, punctuation should always go inside the quotation mark when the quotation mark finishes the sentence. Like this:

  • Karen said, “It’s not easy doing this job, you know.”

2. Correct!

Whenever we use part of a quote embedded within a sentence, we do not capitalize them. We also have to punctuate it properly for the rest of the sentence, so a comma is necessary here.

3. Correct!

Remember, whenever the question is asked within the quote, not the entire sentence, the question mark goes inside the quotation marks. If we ask the question within the entire sentence but not the quote, then the question mark would appear outside the quotation marks, just as within our example earlier.

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