How to use quotation marks
Quotation marks or quote marks are the single or double raised commas used at the beginning and the end of a written quotation.
Single quote marks are shown ‘thus’.
Double quote marks are shown “thus”.
There are a number of instances where they are used.
The simplest case to remember is that double quote marks should be reserved to show speech
. “Good gracious!” exclaimed the duchess.
The next most common use is when discussing somebody else’s writing:
In his recent account of the phone hacking scandal, Guardian journalist David Pallister mentions the ‘deep-seated culture of corruption’ shared by the police and the tabloid press.
The words quoted are put into single quote marks for two reasons:
- to show them distinct from the author’s own discussion
- to respect the original and avoid any charge of plagiarism
Remember that when a statement is ‘opened’ with a quote mark, it must be ‘closed’ at some point. It must not be left open.
There are very few universally agreed conventions on the use of quote marks. Practice varies from one house style manual to another. The following are some general suggestions, based on current usage.
In a detailled discussion, quote marks can be used as a form of emphasis, drawing attention to particular terms or expressions:
Internet users have developed their own specialist language or jargon. People ‘download’ software, use ‘file transfer protocols’, and run checks to detect ‘viruses’.
An acceptable alternative would be to display these terms in italics.
This distinction becomes important in academic writing where it is necessary to show a difference between the titles of articles and the journals or books in which they are published:
Higham, J.R., ‘Attitudes to Urban Delinquency’ in Solomons, David, Sociological Perspectives Today, London: Macmillan, 1998.
Quotes within quotes
It is sometimes necessary to include one quotation within another. In such cases, a distinction must be shown between the two items being quoted.
The Express reported that ‘Mrs Smith claimed she was “deeply shocked” by the incident’.
In this example, what Mrs Smith said is put in double quote marks (sometimes called ‘speech marks’) and the extract from the Express is shown in single quote marks.
It’s very important that the order and the logic of such sequences is maintained – because this can affect the integrity of what is being claimed.
Care should be taken with punctuation both within and around quotation marks.
The Express also pointed out that ‘At the meeting, Mrs Smith asked the minister “How could we as a family defend ourself against these smears?”‘
Quote marks are commonly used to indicate the titles of books, films, operas, paintings, and other well-known works of art.
Charles Dickens’s novel ‘Bleak House’
Francis Ford Coppola’s film ‘Apocalypse Now!’
Benjamin Britten’s opera ‘The Turn of the Screw’
Pablo Picasso’s painting ‘Guernica’
Quote marks can also be used to indicate the title of anything else which has a known existence, separate from the discussion:
photographs, exhibitions, television programmes, magazines, newspapers
Quote marks are not necessary when indicating the titles of organisations.
Senator Jackson yesterday reported to the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Representatives.
The quotation mark started its life as a raised comma. It was used at a time when typogrphical marks available to a printer were rather limited.
With the advent of the typewriter, a single and a double raised stroke were added to the marks available – and are still present on most keyboards.
But typographical purists have now invented what are called ‘smart quotes’. These are single and double raised commas which are automatically arranged and inverted at the start and the end of a quotation:
"Good gracious!" cried the duchess.
© Roy Johnson 2011
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