Quotation Mark Rules You’ll Never Forget

Dialogue is something we shouldn’t take for granted in works of fiction—after all, can you imagine a book without it? No conversations, no witty banter, no wild expletives hurled at just the right moment, nothing?

Dialogue tells us so much about a character: whether they use casual or more formal language, how they view the world and describe it, and a lot of times, what facts they choose to hide or reveal about themselves. So given how important dialogue can be to a story, it’s time to give quotation marks some attention.

What are quotation marks?

Quotation marks (“ ”) are used to set off direct quotations—which are what we call the sentences that characters exchange in a dialogue. A quotation begins and ends with quotation marks: “I am getting worried,” she said, “that he has not called.” This signifies that someone actually said these words.

When to use double quotation marks (“ ”)

Direct quotes

Quotation marks are used to set off any statement that is presented word for word as it was spoken or printed in another source. For example, in the previous example, the character said the words exactly as presented within the quotation marks: “I am getting worried,” she said, “that he has not called.”

Indirect quotes

Indirect quotes do not require quotation marks—in fact, punctuation can be used to distinguish these two types of quotes. The quotation marks around direct quotes make clear that the material is presented word for word; an indirect quote is a paraphrase of the original material. For example, you might say: Natalia said she liked the book, but I don’t remember what else she said about it.

Titles of works

Of course, quotation marks have a use beyond creating dialogue. They are also used to enclose article titles or parts of a document, e.g., Her article, “14,000 Things to be Happy About,” is a must-read. Book titles are italicized.

Measurements

Quotation marks can be used to express measurements. A single quotation mark denotes a foot, while the double quotation mark indicates the inches. For example: 5’4″. Technically, the marks used with measurements are called a prime and double prime, and they are straight whereas quotation marks are curly. However, in informal writing, it’s perfectly acceptable to use quotation marks.

Nicknames

Here’s another use you might not think of right away: you should use quotation marks when you denote someone’s nickname in the middle of their name. For example: Thomas “Tom” Holland.

When to use single quotation marks (‘ ’)

Single quotation marks have a much more specific use and should not be confused with double quotation marks. Single quotations appear when one quoted material is cited within another. For example, they might be used to note that one person is quoting another: “Carole said, ‘Good night.’ Didn’t you hear her?” Albert asked. (Grammarian June Casagrande notes you could see a sentence like “Ben said, ‘Jessie said, “Mark said, ‘Goodbye.'”‘” But you probably won’t—thankfully.) 

Similarly, a single quotation mark is used to denote a composition title when used within a quote: “I’m looking forward to reading ‘The Hill We Climb’ with my class,” Alyssa said.

Rules for using quotation marks in writing

Quotation marks must come in pairs

Quotation marks are used in pairs. This goes for both double and single quotation marks. (An apostrophe, which is typed just like a single quotation mark, has its own specific uses and works alone.)

Punctuation when using quotation marks

In American usage, punctuation that goes inside the closing quotation mark includes a period or comma. (In British usage, the period and the comma go outside the quotation mark.)  Some of the other rules include:

 

  1. Use a comma to introduce a quotation: The teacher said, “Take out your calculators.”
  2. Place periods inside the quotation marks: The little girl adamantly said, “I’m not going.”
  3. Semicolons and colons go outside of quoted material. Sam described himself as “serious”; his brother disagreed.
  4. The exclamation point and question mark fall inside quotation marks if they belong with the quoted matter but outside if they punctuate the sentence as a whole. For example, Cliff asked, “Whose coat is this?” In that sentence, Cliff is asking a question. But here’s a different example: Who yelled out “the answer is 52”?
  5. For quotations which extend beyond one paragraph, a quotation mark begins each paragraph and the closing quotation mark is at the end of the last paragraph.

Capitalization when using quotation marks

The first word of quoted material should be capitalized. If using quotation marks with titles of works, be sure to consult our guide to capitalizing titles.

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