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Guidelines for Using Quotation Marks Effectively


Quotation marks, sometimes referred to as quotes or inverted commas, are punctuation marks used in pairs to set off a quotation or a piece of dialogue. Here are five guidelines for using quotation marks effectively in American English.

1. Direct Quotations

Use double quotation marks (" ") to enclose a direct quotation:

After telling an audience that young people today "think work is a four-letter word," Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said she apologized to her daughter.

"No good deed," wrote Clare Booth Luce, "will go unpunished."
Keep in mind that direct quotations repeat a speaker's exact words. In contrast, indirect quotations are summaries or paraphrases of someone else's words. Do not use quotation marks around indirect quotations:
Paul said, "I'm satisfied."

Paul said that he was satisfied.

2. Titles

Use double quotation marks to enclose the titles of songs, short stories, essays, poems, and articles:
Softly, almost tenderly, Legree recited the lyrics to the song "She Made Toothpicks out of the Timber of My Heart."

The first draft of my favorite E. B. White essay, "Once More to the Lake," was a letter that White wrote to his brother a week after their mother's death.
Do not put quotation marks around the titles of books, newspapers, or magazines; instead, italicize or underline those titles.

3. Quotations Within Quotations

Use a pair of single quotation marks (' ') to enclose a title, direct quotation, or piece of dialogue that appears within another quotation:

Josie once said, "I have never read much poetry, but I love the sonnet 'Be Bop a Lula.'"
Notice that two separate quotation marks appear at the end of the sentence: a single mark to close the title and a double mark to close the direct quotation.

4. Commas and Quotation Marks

When a comma or a period appears at the end of a quotation, put it inside the quotation mark:

"Gluttony is an emotional disease," Peter DeVries once wrote, "a sign that something is eating us."

5. Other Marks of Punctuation with Quotation Marks

When a semicolon or a colon appears at the end of a quotation, put it outside the quotation mark:

John Wayne never said, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do"; however, he did say, "A man ought to do what's right."

When a question mark or an exclamation point appears at the end of a quotation, put it inside the quotation mark if it belongs to the quotation:

Gus sang, "How Can I Miss You If You Don't Go Away?"

But if the question mark or exclamation point does not belong to the quotation itself, put it outside the quotation mark:

Did Merdine really sing, "His Heart Was Pure"?


NEXT:  Practice in Using Quotation Marks Correctly

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