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What Are Quotation Marks (“) And How Do You Use Them?

Confucius once said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” Gandhi once said, “Coercion cannot but result in chaos in the end.” Terry Pratchett once said, “In ancient times cats were worshiped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” Wise words. Wise words, indeed.

When we repeat someone else’s words, it is important to give them their due using quotation marks. Using quotation marks properly can be pretty tough, though, so it’s a good idea to learn the rules of quotation marks before spreading words around.

What are quotation marks?

Quotation marks are punctuation marks with several different uses. As their name suggests, quotation marks are often used to begin and end direct quotations. Typically, the opening quotation mark resembles a pair of upside-down apostrophes and the closing mark resembles a pair of apostrophes. Often, both the opening and closing quotation marks appear to be identical when handwritten or when using certain computer programs.

In American English, double quotation marks (“ and ”) are typically used to enclose a quotation while single marks (‘ and ’) are typically used to enclose a quote within a quote. In British English, the reverse is true. Going forward, we will only be focusing on the American English method.

✏️Examples of quotation marks in a sentence

The following sentences show the different ways that we can use quotation marks.

  • Joshua said, The party is on Saturday.” 
  • The only thing that can stop us now, Lancelot said, is a dragon.
  • The annoying mascot character was afan favorite that appeared in every episode.
  • Bishop Queen’s GambitKnight was a legendary chess player.
  • The word Mississippi is a common source of misspellings.

When do you use quotation marks?

Unsurprisingly, quotation marks are used to begin and end quotations. A quotation, or quote, is an exact repeat of another source’s spoken or written words. Quotation marks separate a quotation from the rest of a writer’s text so that a reader knows which words are not the writer’s own (or are from a different work by the same writer). Despite the name, though, quotation marks do have several other uses not related to quotations.

Quotations

A quotation is separated out by a pair of double quotation marks. Typically, a quotation is introduced with a comma or other punctuation mark when beginning in the middle of a sentence:

  • The wizard said, Magic is a gift for the wise and a curse for the foolhardy.” 

If written or spoken words are quoted exactly, we refer to it as a direct quotation. Direct quotes typically use quotation marks. If a writer paraphrases or alludes to text/speech, we refer to this as an indirect quotation. Typically, indirect quotations don’t use quotation marks because the writer is not quoting someone else’s exact words. For example,

  • Direct quote: Uncle Ben said, With great power comes great responsibility.
  • Indirect quote: Uncle Ben said powerful people have a lot of responsibility.

In American English, if a quote is inside another quote, we typically contain the quote-in-a-quote within single quotation marks. For example,

  • Felicity said, The DJ yelled, I’m sorry before playing a Nickelback song.

The rules of punctuation when using quotations can get tricky. We will look at how quotation marks interact with other punctuation marks momentarily.

Other uses

Let’s look at the other ways we might use quotation marks that don’t involve quotations.

Nicknames

Typically, nicknames are set apart from a person’s actual name using quotation marks:

  • Dwayne The Rock Johnson is a very popular actor.
  • She has a baseball autographed by Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Learn more about proper nouns here.

Scare quotes

Scare quotes are a pair of quotation marks put around a word or phrase to indicate that a writer believes a term is inappropriate, wants to use a term ironically, or wants to call attention to a word/phrase for a certain reason.

  • The ferocious guard dog happily played with the children. (The writer is using the word ferocious ironically.)
  • The pirate captain’smercyinvolved throwing prisoners overboard. (The writer thinks the word mercy doesn’t fit with what is being described.)

Discussing words and letters

When a writer is talking about a specific word or letter, the word/letter may be separated out using quotation marks. You may also see a writer alternatively use italics for this same reason.

  • I need a word stronger than nauseating to describe how bad this smells.
  • The head coach said that the team’s success wasn’t just about X’s and O’s.

Titles

Sometimes, titles of creative works such as songs, poems, movies, video games, books, articles, and works of art are placed in quotation marks. However, the rules of specifically which works do or do not use quotation marks often vary depending on style guide or grammar resource. Before you use quotation marks with a title, consult whichever style guide you use. The following example shows how two different major style guides refer to the title of a book:

  • AP Style: The Great Gatsby was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  • Chicago Style: The Great Gatsby was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Heights

Informally, a single instance of a double quotation mark is used to indicate inches when measuring height. An apostrophe is used to indicate feet. For example,

  • Shaquille O’ Neal is 71 (7 feet and 1 inch) and is a dominant force in basketball games.

How to use quotation marks

When using quotation marks, it is important to know the rules of proper grammar.

In fiction writing, quotation marks are also used to present spoken dialogue. In practice, this usage is identical to using them to present quotes, so all of the same rules of grammar will apply.

Quotation marks always come in pairs

In formal writing, it is considered a grammatical error to not enclose a quote (or anything else) within a pair of quotation marks. Make sure to always begin and end a quote between two quotation marks:

Incorrect: My sister says, “Hi.
Correct: My sister says, “Hi.”

Quotation marks and other punctuation

Quotation marks often appear next to other punctuation marks, and these interactions can often lead to grammatical mistakes. Let’s explore the general rules of how quotation marks are used with other punctuation marks. 

Commas 

Unless it is used to end a sentence, a quotation typically ends with a comma and not a period. In this case, the comma goes inside the quotation marks. For example,

  • Go to your room,” said the angry dad.

When a quotation is used somewhere besides the beginning of a sentence, it might be introduced with a transitional phrase that ends with a comma. In this case, the comma comes before and outside of the quotation marks:

  • The grouchy girl said, “I hate snow.” 

If a quote is interrupted, commas are typically used to end the initial part of the quote and to introduce the final part of the quote. Additionally, both parts of the quote are contained within quotation marks. The placement of the commas is the same as before. For example,

  • The only thing we have to fear,” said President Kennedy, is fear itself.”

If a quote is very short or flows naturally in a sentence, a writer may choose not to use a comma to introduce or end that quote. For example,

  • The judge said the prosecutor was alarmingly unprofessional.”
  • Money can’t buy happiness is a statement that not everybody agrees with.

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Period

If a quote is used to end a sentence, it uses a period. The period is placed within the quotation marks:

  • The sign says, No parking.”

If a sentence ends with a quote-within-a-quote, the period is typically placed inside all of the quotation marks:

  • Jessica said, Bill announced No dogs allowed.’”

Question mark and exclamation point

If a quotation that is a question or exclamation is used in the middle of a sentence, it does not also need a comma. For example,

  • Yay!” shouted the crowd.

If a quotation that is a question or exclamation is used in a sentence that is itself a question or an exclamation, the question mark or exclamation point is typically placed inside the quotation marks.

  • Question: Who asked Why?”
  • Exclamation: We shouted Hooray!” 

If a quotation is not a question or exclamation, but the larger sentence is, the question mark or exclamation point is typically placed outside the quotation marks:

  • Question: How many times are you going to say Yes”?
  • Exclamation: The pale woman smiled evilly and calmly whispered I am a ghost”!

Colon and semicolon

Colons and semicolons are typically placed outside of quotation marks, regardless of whether they come before or after a quotation. You would only put a semicolon or colon inside quotation marks if the original quote used them.

  • Colon: If I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times: “Don’t pet skunks.
  • Semicolon: The teacher said, Don’t panic”; we panicked anyway.

Are you ready to quiz yourself on how to use quotation marks now?

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Get the ins and outs of quotation marks with our handy guide on ... what goes inside and outside of a quotation mark.

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