Using Quotation Marks
Using Quotation MarksQuotation marks ("") have four uses:
(1) To identify previously spoken or written words.
- Groucho Marx said: "Either he's dead or my watch has stopped."
- When the "Herald of Free Enterprise" left the port with her bow-door open, the sea flooded her decks almost instantly. Within minutes, she was lying on her side in shallow water.
- When the boss left, Peter's "mentor" took off his uniform and rushed back to the pub.
- "Dogs" is plural.
(1) Using Quotation Marks to Identify Previously Spoken or Written Words
- George Bernard Shaw said: "When a thing is funny, search it carefully for a hidden truth." (When a quotation is introduced with words like "He said" (called words of attribution), it is usual to precede the quotation with a comma or a colon.)
- Your uncle's observation wasn't meant to be just funny. Take Shaw's advice and "search it carefully for a hidden truth." (When there are no words of attribution, do not use a comma or a colon.)
(2) Using Quotation Marks to Highlight the Name of Things Like Ships, Books, and Plays
(3) Using Quotation Marks to Signify So-Called or Alleged
- My "mates" drove off with my clothes.
- Using his father's equipment, Alexander found over 50,000 bacteria on a "clean" chopping board.
- His "wife" arrived 2 hours after Mr. Becket checked in. (Sometimes, quotation marks perform two roles. Here, they signify so-called or alleged, but they also suggest that Mr. Becket himself described the lady as his wife.)
- Oh no, I've dropped another. These eggs "know" when you're about to crack them. (The eggs don't know. Here, the quotation marks show that "know" is not being used in its literal sense.)
(4) Using Quotation Marks to Show a Word Refers to the Word Itself
- "It's" is a contraction of "it is" or "it has". It's got no other uses. (In the first sentence, It's is not being used for its meaning. We're discussing it. In the second, the It's is being used for its meaning.)
- If you apply the Latin rule for forming a plural, then the plural of "octopus" is "octopi." However, "octopus" stems from Greek not Latin. If you apply the Greek rule, it's "octopodes," but even a Greek wouldn't use "octopodes" because the Greek word for octopus is "chtapodi." The plural of "octopus" is "octopuses." (Quotation marks can start to get scruffy. Italics are far neater.)
More about Quotation Marks
Why Should I Care about Quotation Marks?There are five common issues related to quotation marks.
(Issue 1) Being inconsistent with single or double quotation marks.
- She said: "My dog can say 'sausages' more clearly than the one on TV."
- Homer Simpson said: "Maybe, just once, someone will call me 'Sir' without adding 'you're making a scene.'"
- She said: 'My dog can say "sausages" more clearly than the one on TV.'
- My dog may not be able to add up, spell my name or say "sausages" or "Esther" like the ones you see on 'That's Life', but he can hold his own in a fight with a badger. (This is untidy. Doubles and singles have been mixed at the same level.)
- The 'fresh' scallops ponged a bit and were pretty slimy.
- There's no 'a' in "definite". No, really, there isn't.
- The website states: "After 30 years, the 'Mary Rose' now has a permanent home in her new, state-of-the-art museum." (The "Mary Rose" was a warship of the English Tudor navy of King Henry VIII.)
- She said: "I don't need 'friends' like you." (Here, friends is within speech marks to convey the idea of so-called friends, which would have been expressed with voice tone.)
(Issue 2) Using quotation marks with reported speechQuotation marks are not used for reported speech. (Reported speech is usually preceded by the word that.) Only use quotation marks for actual quotations of speech or writing.
- The secretary said that "the phones were dead." (This is reported speech. The quotation marks do not accurately quote the secretary, who said, "The phones are dead.")
- The secretary said that the phones were dead. (This is also reported speech. It is correct without quotation marks.)
- The secretary said that the phones were "dead." (This is also reported speech, but this time the quotation marks are fine because they quote the secretary accurately.)
- The secretary said, "The phones are dead." (This is not reported speech. The quotation marks show the secretary's actual speech.)
- This morning, Alan said that he liked toast. (This is an example of reported speech, which is why no quotation marks have been used.)
- This morning, Alan said that "he liked toast." (As these are not the actual words Alan said, there should be no quotation marks.
- Alan said, "I like toast." (These are his exact words.)
(Issue 3) Being unsure whether to use a comma or a colon before a quotation.
(Rule 1) Use a colon if the introduction is an independent clause.
- New York gang members all advise the following: "Don't run from fat cops. They shoot earlier."
Read more about capitalization after a colon.
Read more about colons or commas before quotations.
(Rule 2) You can use a colon if the quotation is a complete sentence.
You could opt for a colon if the quotation itself is a complete sentence, especially if you intend to start it with a capital letter.
- The orders state: "In case of fire, exit the building before tweeting about it." (You could also use a comma here.)
You should go for a comma if the introduction is not an independent clause.
- Before each shot, the keeper said aloud, "bum, belly, beak, bang." (Use a comma if the introduction is not an independent clause and the quotation is not a sentence.)
- Peering over his glasses, he said, "Never test the depth of a river with both feet." (You could also use a colon here because the quotation is a complete sentence.)
Only a comma can be used after a quotation.
- "Always give 100%, unless you're donating blood", he would always say. (A colon is not an option. The question of whether the comma should be inside or outside the quotation mark is covered on Issue 4 below.)
It is common for quotations to be used without introductions. When there's no introduction, don't use any punctuation.
- I believe there really is, "no place like home." (There should be no comma.)
- I would hate to see the worst if this is the, "best skiing resort in France".
(Issue 4) Being unsure whether to place punctuation inside or outside the quotation.
|Punctuation||UK Convention||US Convention|
|. and ,||
Place your full stops and commas outside (unless they appear in the original).
Place your full stops and commas inside.
|! and ?||
Place exclamation marks and question marks inside or outside according to logic.
|?, !, and .||
Don't double up with end marks. But, if you must, you can.
Don't double up with end marks.
|: and ;||
Place colons and semicolons outside the quotation.
|More on ?, ! and .||
Don't end a quotation with a period (full stop) when the quotation doesn't end the whole sentence. There's more leniency with question and exclamation marks, but try to avoid that situation too.
(Issue 5) Using quotation marks for emphasis.Don't use quotation marks for emphasis. Firstly, it's not a recognized use for quotation marks, and, secondly, your readers could read them as meaning alleged or so-called.
- We sell "fresh" fish.
- Welcome to a "clean" Western restaurant. (These are both real examples.)
One More Point about Quotation Marks
Using Ellipsis (Three Dots) in a Quotation
- Original: " I'm never going to be famous. My name will never be writ large on the roster of Those Who Do Things. I don't do anything. Not one single thing. I used to bite my nails, but I don't even do that anymore." (Dorothy Parker, 1893-1967)
- With ellipsis: "I'm never going to be famous...I don't do anything...I used to bite my nails, but I don't even do that anymore." (Dorothy Parker, 1893-1967)
Read more about three dots (ellipsis) within speech marks