Quotation marks (Part II)

October 26, 2009


Do you have the use of quotation marks down pat? 

Okay, as promised, we need to discuss the placement of quotation marks when other punctuation are present.  When commas or periods occur with quotation marks, English speakers in the United States will place the ending comma or period inside the quotes while in the United Kingdom or Canada, logic influences the placement of the comma or period.  Basically, if the punctuation relates to the quoted material, it goes inside. When it is part of the sentence, and not the quoted material, the period or comma goes outside.


Charles Dickens once said, “A loving heart is the truest wisdom.” (United States)

Charles Dickens once said, “A loving heart is the truest wisdom”. (United Kingdom and Canada)


Be careful!  This is only applicable for the comma and period, not for other ending punctuation like a question mark (?) or exclamation point (!), where the punctuation always go either before or after the quotation marks depending on whether punctuation is also part of the quoted material.


Did Charles Dickens once say, “A loving heart is the truest wisdom”?  (quoted material not part of question)

She asked, “Did you just say that the quote is from Charles Dickens?” (quoted material is part of question)


Now, a more complicated issue is what happens when quoted material is placed within quoted material, for example, when the writing is mentioning what someone is saying and that person is quoting someone else?

When this happens, the author would put double quotes around the speech that his informant said then single quote around what this person said that someone else said:


She said, “Charles Dickens once said, ‘A loving heart is the truest wisdom.’”


Last time, it was mentioned that writers may try to put others’ speech inside quotation marks to distance themselves from the speech or to suggest an alternative meaning to a certain word or phrase.  However, sometimes you may see that words or phrases are placed within quotation marks for emphasis. This should not be done as it would make readers wonder about the true meaning. Instead, one should underline or italicize the word.  On paper, underlining is probably going to be the chosen method while on the computer, italicizing is the better choice.


An advertisement at a retail store may read: “Low” prices  (This suggests that the prices might actually not be that low.)

Instead, underlining or italicizing should be used: Low prices OR Low prices


Last episode mentioned that titles of larger pieces of written work should be underlined or italicized. Here is a list of them:


Journals and magazines


Long musical pieces

Television and radio programs

Famous speeches


Lincoln’s famous speech The Gettysburg Address

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet


OK, that wraps up Part II on quotation marks!

Quotation marks (Part I)

October 4, 2009

quotation marks

Wow, it’s been awhile since I’ve last written about punctuation!  This time I want to talk about the use of quotation marks as they seem to be a rather unique punctuation marker in English as other languages use a different punctuation marker for the situations that one would use quotation marks in English. 

By the way, notice that it is quotation marks with an “s” as they occur in pairs (“ ”) or (‘ ’).  Even though the full name is quotations marks, sometimes people would just call them quotations or quotes for short.  Now, how would English speakers read a sentence with quotations, like the one below?

        Charles Dickens once said, “A loving heart is the truest wisdom.”

They would say “quote” when they reach the first quotation mark, read the quote, and then say “end quote” to give credit to the original author for the quoted material and to differentiate what he said from the rest of the sentence.

There are three main situations when quotation marks are used in writing:

1) The first involves quoting someone from written form or in verbal communication.  When the quote is a sentence or longer, remember to use a comma before starting the quote and capitalizing the first letter of the sentence.  If the quoted information is only a sentence fragment in paraphrased speech, no punctuation is required to separate the information from the rest of the sentence unless it is at the end of the sentence. 

        She said that the book is “interesting and deep.” 


2) The second usage of quotation marks is for notating the titles of the following list of short or minor works:

Short stories






Chapters in books

Articles in newspapers, magazines, or journals

Episodes of TV or radio series


        “Amazing Grace” is one of my favorite songs.

Longer works are underlined (Romeo and Juliet) or italicized (Romeo and Juliet). 


3) The third type of usage allows for single quotation marks.  Although double quotations could be used, sometimes writers prefer to use single quotation marks (‘ ’) to distance what someone said that is irony, slang, or a made-up word or phrase.  Usually, this is a few words or a short phrase. 


One of the headlines in The Los Angeles Times on October 2, 2009, was:

        Alleged Letterman extortionist said he needed to ‘make a large chunk of money’ 

Here the author is quoting and emphasizing what Letterman’s extortionist said.


A BBC headline on October 4, 2009, had:

        Iran ‘co-operation’ draws praise

Here the author is suggesting that maybe the cooperation is not really cooperation.  One would have to read the article to find out.


There are also issues with the mechanics of using quotation marks.  For example, what happens when quoted material is inside other quoted material?  Are there differences in the placement of quotation marks in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States? What does it mean to put something in quotations versus underlining it?  Quotation marks Part II to come!



David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

The Los Angeles Times