Using Quotation Marks

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Just as with apostrophes, many people confuse the correct way to use quotation marks. Here is a very simple explanation: use quotation marks to enclose direct quotations (words that another person has spoken or written) or the title of a short work. Do not use quotation marks for indirect quotations (paraphrasing) or emphasis.

Correct:

  • “Early Bird” by Shel Silverstein
  • “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles
  • John said, “I am going to read.”

Incorrect:

  • “Do not” take my book without asking.
  • “John said he was going to read.”

Instead of using quotation marks to provide emphasis for “do not,” in this example, consider using bold, italics, or underlining to provide the emphasis.

  • Do not/not/not take my book without asking.

Where to Put Punctuation When Using Quotation Marks

Where you were born could affect where you place your punctuation – inside or outside the quotation marks.

But first, let’s look at the style of quotation marks used in American and British English.

In American English, we use double quotes for the initial quotation and single quotes for any quotation within the quotation. For example:

  • My friend told me, “Your mom said, ‘Come inside right now.’”

In British English, it’s the opposite.

  • My friend told me, ‘Your mom said, “Come inside right now.”’

Further, in the United States, we place punctuation inside the quotation marks regardless of whether the punctuation is part of the quotation.

Here’s an example:

  • Thomas Jefferson once said, “I cannot live without books.”

The full quote is actually this:

  • “I cannot live without books; but fewer will suffice where amusement, and not use, is the only future object.”

So even though the period in the first bullet point was not part of the actual quote, we put it inside of the quotation marks.

The British version puts the punctuation outside the quotation marks, unless it is part of the actual quotation. So in British English, the first quotation above would look like this:

  • Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘I cannot live without books’.

But if quoting the full sentence, it would look like this:

  • ‘I cannot live without books; but fewer will suffice where amusement, and not use, is the only future object.’

As is the norm with English grammar and punctuation, there are many deviations from the rule. Just make sure you are consistent.

Come back next week to learn about more differences between U.S., Canadian, and U.K. English and check out last week’s blog about the Oxford comma. And as always, if you need help with your website content, contact us today at 888-521-3880.