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Quotation Marks and How to Use Them

The main function of quotation marks is to enclose or set off something said or written by another person, especially when it is included in your own piece of writing. You will most often use them to avoid accidental plagiarism. If you are not familiar with English grammar and punctuation rules, this topic will be quite challenging. However, there is nothing to be worried about – these tricky inverted commas often confuse even the most experienced writers.

When using quotation marks, certain rules apply. Make sure to cover them if you want to make everything right.

Quotation marks in direct and indirect quotations

Direct quotations aim to incorporate another person's exact words into a new text.

Mrs. Smith, who was watching TV that night, said, "The alien spaceship landed right in her backyard."

Indirect quotations do not incorporate exact wordings but rather rephrase another person's words.

Mrs. Smith reported last night that she saw an alien spaceship landed in her backyard.

It is up to you which kind of quotes to use. But you should make sure that it looks organically in the context of your writing.

Single vs double quotation marks

The topic of quotation marks is very interesting as it depends on the country that you are writing in. The UK convention relies on single quotation marks (‘ ’), while the US convention prefers double quotation marks (" "). For example:

  • 🇬🇧✔️ 'Good morning, Jane,' called Mark.
  • 🇺🇸✔️ "Good morning, Jane," called Mark.

In British English, the use of double quotation marks is also becoming more common. You can use them to stay consistent throughout the text. If you format your paper in the APA style, the use of double quotation marks is required.

Quotes within quotes

When one quote appears inside another quote, it needs to be set off with the other type of quotation marks. Despite being a rare circumstance, it still occurs in academic and official writing.

  • 🇬🇧✔️ Michael said: ‘In a town outside Norfol, I saw “Tourists go home” written on a wall. But then someone told me, “Don’t take it personally, pal.” ’
  • 🇺🇸✔️ Michael said: "In a town outside Norfol, I saw 'Tourists go home' written on a wall. But then someone told me, 'Don’t take it personally, pal.' "

If it looks inappropriate in the text, you should rewrite the sentence. Otherwise, you will lose your reader, who gets lost in a labyrinth of quotation marks.

Integrating quotations

It is crucial to integrate quotations into the context without placing them into separate sentences.

Alison commented on the issue. “Our colleague needs medical treatment!”

Instead, you can use one of the available methods. Here they are:

Use a colon after an independent clause.
🇬🇧✔️ Alison commented on the issue: ‘Our colleague needs medical treatment!’
🇺🇸✔️ Alison commented on the issue: “Our colleague needs medical treatment!”
Use of no extra punctuation.
🇬🇧✔️ Alison was concerned that the colleague ‘needs medical treatment.’
🇺🇸✔️ Alison was concerned that the colleague “needs medical treatment.”
Use of a dialogue if verbs like to state, to argue and to comment are around.
🇬🇧✔️ Commenting on the problem, Alison said, ‘Our colleague needs medical treatment!’
🇺🇸✔️ Commenting on the problem, Alison said, “Our colleague needs medical treatment!”
Use of an introductory phrase.
🇬🇧✔️ According to Alison, ‘Our colleague needs medical treatment!’
🇺🇸✔️ According to Alison, “Our colleague needs medical treatment!”

Block quotes

If you have a phrase that is set off as a block quotation, you do not need to put opening and closing quotation marks. Instead of being enclosed in quotation marks, block quotations can be set off from the main text as a separate paragraph.

Example

Albert Einstein once said
Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned like a liberation…

Similar to all quotations, block quotes need to be integrated into your text with an introduction that explains why the quote has been used.

Quotation marks for emphasis

Quotation marks are often used for emphasis. They can help you express sarcasm or highlight an unknown term.

Type of emphasis Use Example
Technical or uncommon terms Quotation marks can single out some technical words. You'll see them used the first time the technical or uncommon term is mentioned. The following use of the term will be without quotation marks. One of the several major branches of zoology, “ichthyology”, specializes on the study of fish. Journal of ichthyology has been issued by the American Academic of Sciences since 1923.
Scare quotes

Scare quotes are not direct quotes taken from specific sources. Being surrounded by quotation marks, they are mainly used to indicate that a term is used in an unusual way.

In academic writing, scare quotes are used to refer to controversial or contested terms. However, the inappropriate use of scare quotes can cause ambiguity in your writing.

Silvester Stallone made a couple of "adult films" before getting his breakthrough in Hollywood.
Definition When a word or expression is defined, the definition needs to be taken into quotation marks. B.C. stands for ‘Before Christ’.

Titles

If you look through the academic sources, you will notice that some titles are italicized while others are surrounded by quotation marks. Here are some short and fast rules:

Shorter works like singular newspaper or magazine articles, chapters, songs, and reviews are to be placed in quotes.

Example

“Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King

Longer works like newspapers, magazines, books, albums, and movies are to be italicized.

Example

“Hush”: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 4, Episode 10

Punctuation within quotations

Quotation marks should always cover the quoted material. One set of quotation marks will indicate the beginning and the other will indicate the end of a quote. There should be no space between the quotation marks and the text they address.

  • 🇬🇧✔️ Frederick Douglass (1852) stated, ‘Liberty won by white men would lack half its luster’ (p. 52).
  • 🇺🇸✔️ MFrederick Douglass (1852) stated, “Liberty won by white men would lack half its luster” (p. 52).

If the quoted phrase ends with a full stop, then the full stop stands before the closing quotation mark. If the quoted phrase does not end with a full stop, then the full stop stands after the closing quotation mark:

  • 🇬🇧✔️ She said: ‘I am listening to you.’
  • 🇬🇧✔️ He has read ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

In the American English, the full stop usually stands before the closing quotation mark, without any exceptions.

  • 🇺🇸✔️ She said: "I am listening to you."
  • 🇺🇸✔️ She said: "I am listening to you."

When not to use quotation marks

Don’t think that you can go around and put quotation marks everywhere you want. This is not how things work here. To avoid the most common quotation mark mistakes, be careful with the following instances.

Right✔️ Wrong❌
Key terms or scale anchors For the purposes of this paper, the term management will be defined as... For the purposes of this paper, the term “management” will be defined as...
Hedging The training lesson lasted only one hour, which was not long enough to cover the whole material. The "training" turned out to be only a one-hour meeting.

Hopefully, the guide has cleared up your confusion about how to use quotation marks. This kind of proficiency becomes second nature with practice.

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