Punctuation: Single Quotation Marks

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.

With and Within Quoted Material

In some countries, such as the UK, single quotation marks are used instead of double quotation marks.

  • e.g. ‘Yes, but you’re a demon. I’m not sure if it’s actually possible for you to do good,’ said Aziraphale. ‘It’s down to your basic, you know, nature. Nothing personal, you understand.” [From In the Beginning, Good Omens]

When a quote is made within double-quoted dialogue, single quotes are used. When a quote is made within single-quoted dialogue, double quotes are used.

  • e.g. “This morning they told me, ‘Go pack your bags; you’re fired!’ and so off I went,” said Mr. Smith mournfully.
  • e.g. ‘This morning they told me, “Go pack your bags; you’re fired!” and so off I went,’ said Mr. Smith mournfully.

*Click here to learn more about Double Quotation Marks.

Single Quotation or Apostrophe?

Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between these two, especially since there is only one key on most keyboards for both. Also, most word processors (such as Office Word and Google Docs) automatically default to single quotation marks.

  • e.g. Typing ‘cause for because makes a single quote because it’s typed first, whereas typing a letter first (I use b for because) then the apostrophe, then the rest of the word gives you the correct form: b’cause. After that, you simply remove the b: ’cause.

*Click here to learn more about Apostrophes.

With Other Punctuation

Single quotation marks interact with other punctuation similarly to how double quotes do.

  • e.g. “Let’s get ’em good, boys,” Marty huffed. [does not contain single quotes]
  • e.g. “And all up the road, he asked, ‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’” Michelle complained. [contains single quotes]

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. ‘We’re going to the zoo,’ said Sarah.

Colons and semicolons always go outside quotation marks.

  • e.g. I wasn’t much of a fan of ‘sticking to my guns’; we did it anyway.

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:


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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