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