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

What Are Quotation Marks? What is (“…”) called? Learn useful punctuation rules and how to use quotation marks in English with example sentences and ESL worksheets.

Quotation Marks

What Are Quotation Marks

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.

When to Use Quotation Marks

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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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

Differences Between American and British Uses 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.


  • 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.


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”.


  • 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.


  • 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.

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

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