All about quotation marks

Learn how to use quotation marks to show when you’re talking, or someone else is! 

Christina Levandowski

Christina Levandowski

January 16, 2024

All about quotation marks

Learn how to use quotation marks to show when you’re talking, or someone else is! 

Christina Levandowski

Christina Levandowski

Jan 16, 2024

All about quotation marks

Learn how to use quotation marks to show when you’re talking, or someone else is! 

Christina Levandowski

Christina Levandowski

Jan 16, 2024

Key takeaways

  • Use quotation marks in pairs – Whether you use double- or single-style quotation marks, always use them in pairs. 
  • You’ll usually use them to show conversation – However, there are other uses that you’ll see later in higher grade levels, but we’ll cover them here! 
  • British and American English have different style preferences – Be sure you know who you’re writing for before you submit your work.

Quotation marks are known as inverted commas or “quotes” and are used in a sentence to show when someone is speaking. Students will use quotation marks frequently in their academic and professional work, especially for direct quotes from primary sources. 

Below, we’re highlighting everything you need to know about quotation marks, different types of quotation marks, and their applied uses.

Why do quotation marks matter?

Without quotation marks, writing would be very confusing. These punctuation marks let readers know who is speaking and show readers what the person said — or what’s known as their exact language. 

Without using quotation marks or transition sentences to indicate who is speaking, plagiarism (or theft of someone else’s work or thoughts) would be far more common.

Basic rules for using quotation marks

While quotation marks aren’t as difficult to use as other forms of punctuation, they do have a few rules to ensure they are used correctly: 

Don’t forget to use them in pairs — Generally, it’s grammatically incorrect to only use one quotation mark. You need a quotation mark on either side of a quote, beginning and ending the person’s statement. “Suzie, throw the ball!” Sally said.

Capitalise complete sentences — If the quote is a complete sentence, capitalise the first letter of the quote — unless it’s placed in the middle of a sentence. For example: “Dogs are known for playing fetch,” the expert said, “and they love to romp and play!” 

Format long quotes differently — For long quotes, capitalise the beginning of each new quoted paragraph, and use an opening quotation mark. You’ll see this more in higher grade levels, but it’s a good idea to get familiar with the concept now. 

The letter was ripped on the edges, but the writing was clear: 

“I’m writing you this letter because I’ve never been to the ocean before. 

“I’ve never seen anything more beautiful in my life. I hope that you feel the same magic that I do.” 

Types of quotation marks

There are two types of quotation marks that you’ll see in writing — single and double quotation marks. You may also know these as inverted commas or “speech marks.”

Single quotation marks

Single quotation marks look like this ( ‘ ). They’re used to indicate dialogue that’s happening in another quotation, which is commonly seen when someone is referring to what someone else said. 

For example: “Santa wrote me a letter that said, ‘I’m coming tonight,’ so I’m choosing to believe him,” Remy said hopefully. 

Double quotation marks

Double quotation marks look like this ( “ ). They are used to show when someone is speaking and what they are saying. They also are used for short works, such as the title of a short story.

Examples of this would be: “Jump high!” Isabella called, laughing at John. 

Or, an example of short story title use would be: “Roland’s newest book, “A Small Life,” known as a collection of short stories about small bugs, made history as a bestseller yesterday.”

When to use quotation marks

There are plenty of times that you might use quotation marks in the text. Common places you’ll use quotation marks include:

Using direct source quotes

If you’re quoting a source directly (repeating their words as they’ve said them), you would use quotation marks. The marks show that what’s said came from someone else. 

Talking about words themselves

If you’re trying to talk about elements of a word or a letter without wanting it to be read naturally in text, you can use quotation marks to set it apart. An example would be: The last “e” in “example” is silent. 

Using a word that doesn’t have its original meaning in context

Quotation marks can also set words apart for emphasis or sarcasm, showing the word doesn’t have its normal meaning. An example would be: Our cat made us a “present,” and by present, we mean a huge mess on the bathroom floor. 

Noting someone’s nickname compared to their given name

If you’re writing someone’s nickname and given name together, offset or highlight the nickname with quotation marks, separating it from the given name to avoid confusion. An example of this would be: Melissa “Mel” Jackson. 

Quotation marks and direct speech

Quotation marks are essential if you’re quoting direct speech or something someone has said. Using them properly helps students avoid plagiarism or theft of work. 

Quoting direct speech

To quote direct speech, you’ll write down what the person said word-for-word, putting quotation marks around the statement. It’s generally a good idea to use a transition sentence showing that the person’s work is their own, not yours. 

For example: The doctor comforted the patient in distress. “Stomach bugs aren’t fun, but they are treatable,” he said. 

Quoting within a quote

Quoting within a quote is made possible by single quotation marks. 

An example of this would be: “Whenever I’m sad, my mom always tells me: ‘Mayra, you don’t have to worry. Life will work itself out.’” 

Punctuation and capitalisation with direct speech

When quoting complete sentences of direct speech, capitalise the first letter of the sentence that you’re writing. The exception to this rule is if your quote is in the middle of another sentence; in which case you can leave it lowercase. 

Quotation marks and punctuation

Beyond direct quotations, there are a few other times when you might use quotation marks with other punctuation. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you do: 

Commas and full stops

Commas can be freely used in quotation marks, breaking up the phrases and exact words that are being said by the person. You can also use full stops inside of quotation marks to mark the end of sentences in longer passages. 

When you’re done quoting your source, add the final period or comma inside the quotation marks. Choose whichever one fits the best with your sentence and passage structure. 

The only exception to this rule is if you’re following the quote with a formal citation.

Question marks and exclamation marks

Question marks and exclamation points can be used within quotation marks if they fit the quote style and type. For example: Michael asked, “What flavor of ice cream would you like?” is a proper use of question marks in quotation marks in context. 

Colons and semicolons

The rules change when using colons and semicolons in quotation marks. Writers and students are generally asked to leave colons and semicolons outside of quotation marks unless they’re part of the quote. 

Colons can also be used in the “tee-up” sentence that comes before the quote.

Quotation marks in different forms of English

Quotation marks are used a little differently across different forms of English. Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind as you write. 

In British English

Generally speaking, commas and full stops are only used in quotation marks if the quote is a complete sentence or if they’re part of the original quote. 

Additionally, British English usually uses single quotation marks ( ‘ ) to indicate quotes, which is different from American English. However, this rule may change depending on the type of writing that you’re doing, per the University of Sussex. 

British English usually doesn’t require quotations to be set off by any punctuation. This means that preferences in American English don’t apply here. Consider the following example: 

Wrong form in British English, correct in American English: Noah declared: “The rains will come and flood the earth.” 

Wrong form in American English, correct in British English: Noah declared “The rains will come and flood the earth.”

In American English

Contrary to what British English prefers, American English uses double quotes to indicate quotations and uses single quotes to note “quotes within quotes” exclusively. 

As a general rule, American English as a style also prefers to have punctuation offsetting the quote before it appears in the text, as shown in the example above.

Common quotation mark mistakes

Quotation marks are incredibly useful, so long as they’re used correctly. Here are some common quotation mark mistakes to be aware of in your writing. 

Incorrect placement of commas and full stops

The placement of commas and full stops is dictated by two primary factors: The style guide or style type that you’re being asked to write in (such as British English vs. American English) and the grammatical needs of the quoted material. 

A paragraph of quoted material may need punctuation marks, whereas a single line may not need anything beyond the full stop at the end of the sentence. 

Before you determine which punctuation marks to put in your work, ask yourself these three things: 

  • Am I being asked to write in British English or American English? 
  • Is there a specific style guide I’m asked to copy? (i.e., a corporate style guide, assignment style directions, or resources, such as the MLA Handbook, may be referenced and given as resources) 
  • What punctuation does the sentence need to be correct beyond quotation marks? Do I need to add anything or take anything away?

Unnecessary use of quotation marks

Using too many quotation marks can get confusing quickly. Before using them in your work, consider asking yourself — do I really need these here? 

If you’re not sure, check out this quick guide that shows you exactly when you should consider using quotation marks:

  • Dialogue. Use quotation marks for speeches or dialogue. 
  • Scare quotes. If the word doesn’t use its original meaning, you can use “scare quotes” to emphasize a specific word.
  • Names. Use quotation marks to indicate a nickname from someone’s given name
  • Published art. When referencing certain pieces of art (song titles, movies, sections of magazines, or sections of books) use quotation marks. 
  • Short stories. Use quotation marks for titles of short stories. 

Misusing single and double quotation marks

Misuse of single and double quotation marks often happens when switching between British English and American English preferences. British English favours single quotes for quotations, while American English prefers to use double quotes for quotations. 

Be sure to determine who you are writing for, and apply the rules accordingly.

Explore quotation marks with DoodleEnglish

DoodleEnglish is an app that’s filled with thousands of fun, interactive exercises covering grammar, punctuation, spelling and more!

Designed by teachers, it creates each child a unique work programme tailored to their needs, boosting their confidence and skills in English. Try it for free today!

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FAQs about quotation marks

Single quotation marks are nearly exclusively used to “quote within a quote” in American English. Additionally, American English prefers to use double quotation marks to indicate someone speaking, the titles of short stories, and to indicate nicknames or times when a word means something other than its original meaning. 

British English often sees single quotation marks used in place of the American English double quotation marks, indicating when someone is speaking.

American English notes that if your speaker is mid-speech and you must end a sentence with a comma, it would go inside the quotation marks. The only exception to this rule would be if the quote has a citation following it. British English prefers the opposite. 

They can be, but we recommend only doing so at higher levels of writing, such as high school and university levels. Emphasis can be shown in other ways, such as the use of italics. 

To convey sarcasm, you would write the word within double quotation marks. 

Screenshot 2023-10-13 at 16.29.14

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