Definition: each of a set of punctuation marks, single (‘ ’) or double (“ ”), used either to mark the beginning and end of a title or quoted passage, or to indicate that a word or phrase is regarded as slang or jargon or is being discussed rather than used within the sentence.
Note: Do not rely on grammar or spelling checkers to identify missing or misused punctuation. Although a checker may flag possibly missing or incorrect marks, it cannot do much else. While I still recommend using these AI checkers while you’re writing, I insist that you also trust a qualified human being to copyedit any work that you are working toward publishing.
Double quotation marks (called “quotation marks” in this article for simplicity) can be used in a variety of scenarios in combination with other punctuation.
Use quotation marks to set off dialogue. To be dialogue, there must be a speaker and either a visible or implied dialogue tag (verb of saying).
- e.g. “Where are we going for dinner?” asked Marcy.
*Each change of speaker begins a new paragraph.
Use quotation marks to set off quotations.
- e.g. Nelson Mandela once said, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Do not use quotations to set off a longer quotation (typically three lines or longer).
- e.g. Nelly Dean treats Heathcliff poorly and dehumanizes him throughout her narration:
They entirely refused to have it in bed with them, or even in their room, and I had no more sense, so, I put it on the landing of the stairs, hoping it would be gone on the morrow. By chance, or else attracted by hearing his voice, it crept to Mr. Earnshaw’s door, and there he found it on quitting his chamber. Inquiries were made as to how it got there; I was obliged to confess, and in recompense for my cowardice and inhumanity was sent out of the house. (Bronte 78)
Use quotation marks to set off titles of articles, songs, poems, essays, and short stories (not larger works like plays, books, works of art, or periodicals).
- e.g. The Tempest is a play by William Shakespeare, while “The Phoenix and the Turtle” is one of his poems.
- e.g. The band was playing Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” as Jim grabbed drinks.
In Special Cases
Use quotation marks to indicate irony or to single out a phrase, but be careful not to imply irony where there is not.
- e.g. After supper, Jerald showed us around his “small vacation home,” which in actuality was a massive castle off the coast of Scotland.
Use quotation marks in translations of foreign words.
- e.g. The system was a kratocracy [Ancient Greek krátos, “strength, might”].
Use quotation marks around nicknames or slang.
- e.g. Edgar “Eagle-Eye” Matthews was the best shooter on the competitive archery team.
Do not use quotation marks around nicknames that replace a name.
- e.g. “Come on, Eagle-Eye! Let’s go get ice cream to celebrate,” Georgina said.
Do not use quotation marks around the term so-called.
- e.g. From 1961 onwards archaeology was taught as a so-called further education course, which followed studies in another discipline lasting four to five years. [From the Cambridge English Corpus]
*In terms of style, you can use quotation marks OR italic for words used as words.
- e.g. The “and” in “Coleman and Son’s” is lowercase.
- e.g. The and in “Coleman and Son’s” is lowercase.
With Other Punctuation
Generally, periods and commas go inside quotation marks.
*Some people say that they always go inside, but others will disagree; this is a matter of house style.
- e.g. “Let’s go,” Magnolia said.
Colons and semicolons always go outside quotation marks.
- e.g. First, we all read “Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright”; then we discussed it in class.
Question marks, exclamation points and dashes all go inside quotation marks if they are part of the dialogue; otherwise, they go outside.
- e.g. “Wait! What are you—?” He gagged.
- e.g. Are you a fan of Disney’s “Encanto”?
When there are quotations within quotation marks, single quotations are used instead.
- e.g. Lewis asked, “Have you ever read ‘Lady Lazarus’ by Sylvia Plath?”
In Other Languages
American and Canadian English styles use double quotation marks “ ” for dialogue.
UK English uses single quotation marks ‘ ’ for dialogue.
Russian, French, German, Italian, and numerous other languages use guillemets « » instead of quotation marks. (These are positioned either facing inwards or outwards, depending on the region.)
For further information, see my other Punctuation articles (coming soon).
Single Quotation Marks
Aaron, J.E. & Morrison, A. The Little, Brown Compact Handbook, 5th Canadian ed. Pearson, 2013, chap 5
Judd, K. Copyediting, A Practical Guide, 3rd ed. California, CA: Crisp Learning, 2001, chap 4
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