What are quotation marks? And how should you use them? If these questions are on your mind, that is perfectly normal; many people are confused by them. But don't worry! After reading this article, you'll feel confident about your knowledge of these punctuation marks and how to use them correctly.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
As I mentioned in the introduction, quotation marks are a form of punctuation that you can use to set apart parts of your text. So in that way, they're similar to other punctuation marks, like dashes or parentheses. But there are some differences, and this particular form of punctuation can't be replaced by any other form of punctuation. Want to know why? Let's find out.
The most common way to use them is to cite direct quotes. You might have guessed it since it's in the name. When you directly quote someone, you repeat exactly what they said word for word. And to show that these are not your words but somebody else's, you use quotation marks.
Here's an example:
"The heart grows fonder with absence."
The same principle applies to quotes from a book, a movie, an online source, or any other external source.
Here are a few examples:
As Brown noted in his research findings, "Quotation marks are surprisingly easy to use."
My favorite part of the movie is when Katniss says, "I volunteer as tribute!"
Not using quotation marks or crediting the author can be seen as plagiarism in some contexts, and you could be accused of stealing someone else's words. Not only that, but it shows a lack of respect for their work to use what they've said and make it pass as yours. This is especially true in academic papers, scientific journals, and online articles.
Quotation marks can also report dialogue between two or more people.
I told her, "It's my first day."
"I'm sure you're going to love it here," Jenny replied.
Or, similarly to when citing someone, you can use them to quote what somebody said. This is often used in fiction novels to state what a character said.
I told her, "It's my first day."
You don't have to quote the entire sentence when reporting dialogue. You can only mention the part that's relevant to what you're saying, in which case you only put that bit within the marks, as such:
She wants me to "dress like a lady."
Note that direct quotes are different from indirect ones, for which you don't need quotation marks.
Jenny replied that she was sure I would love it here.
If you want to mention the title of book chapters, poems, journal articles, or any other shorter works, you can use quotation marks. Typically, you'd use italics to cite longer works such as entire books, movies, or podcasts.
Here's what that looks like in practice:
"Love and Friendship" is one of the greatest poems ever written.
The first chapter of A Brief History of Time is titled "Our Picture of the Universe."
Have you seen the episode "Once More With Feeling"?
If you want to set words apart for any other reason, quotation marks are your friend. Let's take a look at some of the different scenarios where you might want to do that.
If you want to refer to a person or a group of people's nickname, you will place it in quotation marks since it's not their actual name.
Here are a few examples:
She was the daughter of Elvis "King of Rock" Presley.
I just saw a guy who looked like "The Rock."
She was known as "The Iron Lady."
Interestingly, some nicknames are so commonly used that they're no longer written as quotations. Some famous examples include:
"Air quotes" is mostly a term used to refer to a gesture you make with your hands to show someone you're being sarcastic, ironic, or mocking the person who said it. But the thing is, when you write down something you've air quoted, you still have to set it apart in your text, too. And you can do that with quotation marks. Take the following sentence, for example.
We're heading to Joe and Anna's tonight. They're cooking "Mexican food."
The fact that "Mexican food" is in quotes shows that the speaker expects the food won't taste anything like Mexican food. This might be because Joe and Anna aren't good cooks, or it could be that their food is excellent but simply isn't Mexican, even though they like to think so.
Here are some more examples:
Mark's not here right now; he's at "work."
Oh, she's just being "supportive."
In the previous section, you might have noticed that the first time I mentioned air quotes, I placed them in quotation marks. This is because it's an uncommon term, and I was assuming that you'd never heard it before.
You only need to use marks the first time you introduce a technical term. After that, your reader knows the word, so it's no longer new to them; therefore, you can omit them.
Here are some more examples:
In 1899, Freud introduced the idea of the "Oedipus Complex," and it forever inflenced psychoanalytic theory.
"Transcendental meditation" is a kind of meditation that involves the use of a mantra.
The "Three Course Dinner Chewing Gum" is one of Willy Wonka's latest inventions.
Sometimes you might want to discuss the meaning of a word. This is another case where you can use quotation marks.
The concept of what a "friend" is means something completely different to me in my older years.
"Grammar" in French is "grammaire."
The words "accept" and "except" are often confused.
There could be many more reasons why you might want to set a word - or group of words - apart. Just know that no matter the reason, you can do that with quotation marks.
Her new hairstyle is... "unusual."
My dog thinks she's a lion, so I call her a "liog."
Most robots are pretty smart, but this one is "artificially unintelligent."
Now we've covered the various ways and circumstances in which you can use quotation marks, and we're going to cover the rules around using punctuation with them. You need to know these rules so that you can be sure you're building grammatically correct sentences.
First of all, let's address the question on everyone's minds: should you use single or double quotation marks?
Let's set the record straight.
Here are some examples of what that might look like:
"I can't believe you've never heard the speech 'I have a dream!'" she exclaimed.
The interviewer asked, "Did you realize that you yelling 'I'm the king of the world!' would become an iconic moment in cinema?"
"When I first heard the term 'bisexual' I knew it applied to me," reveals Nick.
In British English, it's the opposite: you use single ones as a general rule and double ones for quotes inside the single ones.
Use commas to introduce or conclude your quote; in other words, use a comma after you've identified the speaker or before it, depending on where you place the introduction.
Here's an example of it being placed before:
Carol said, "I can't help; I'm stuck at the office."
And here's the same example, but with the speaker identification after the quote:
"I can't help; I'm stuck at the office," said Carol.
Notice that the comma isn't placed within the quotation marks if it comes before the quote, but it is when it comes after. That's because any punctuation that directly follows the content of a quotation mark should be placed within the marks. That is, unless it's a question mark or exclamation point, which brings me to my next point.
Depending on the context and type of punctuation, you'll sometimes place it within the marks and sometimes after.
Look at the two following sentences that illustrate this:
"Would you like to have lunch with me?" she asked.
Did she really say, "Have lunch with me"?
In the first example, the direct quotation asks the question. Therefore, the question mark goes inside the quotation marks.
In the second example, the question is whether or not she said it, which is not the part within quotes, so the question mark sits outside.
The same principle applies to exclamation points.
If you're quoting several lines, you should use opening quotation marks at the beginning of each line but only use a closing quotation mark at the end of the quote.
She began the eulogy,
"Susan was a woman of many talents
"Loved by all
"She touched many lives
"And will be remembered always."
Should you capitalize the first word of your text within quotation marks? The answer is that it depends.
Let's take a look at some examples.
He told me, "Programming is a highly valued skill in the workplace."
I didn't see the sign that said "wet paint" and ended up covered in green paint.
"What's your ideal Sunday?" the interviewer asked.
The first reports mentioned that the extra-terrestrial "felt warm to the touch."
As a wise man once said, "It takes two to tango."
That concludes this article on quotation marks and when to use them. I hope it's helped you feel more confident about using them properly moving forward.
Let's summarize what we've learned:
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