Quotation Marks


Use quotation marks [ ] to set off material that represents quoted or spoken language. Quotation marks also set off the titles of things that do not normally stand by themselves: short stories, poems, and articles. Usually, a quotation is set off from the rest of the sentence by a comma; however, the typography of quoted material can become quite complicated.


In American style, then, you would write: My favourite poem is Robert Frost's "Design." But in England and Canada, you would write: My favourite poem is Robert Frost's "Design". The placement of marks other than periods and commas follows the logic that quotation marks should accompany (be right next to) the text being quoted or set apart as a title. Thus, you would write (on either side of the Atlantic):


What do you think of Robert Frost's "Design"? and

I love "Design"; however, my favourite poem was written by Emily Dickinson.


Further, punctuation around quoted speech or phrases depends on how it fits into the rest of your text. If a quoted word or phrase fits into the flow of your sentence without a break or pause, then a comma may not be necessary:


The phrase "lovely, dark and deep" begins to suggest ominous overtones.


Following a form of to say, however, you'll almost always need a comma:


My father always said, "Be careful what you wish for."


If the quoted speech follows an independent clause yet could be part of the same sentence, use a colon to set off the quoted language:


My mother's favourite quote was from Shakespeare: "This above all, to thine own self be true."


When an attribution of speech comes in the middle of quoted language, set it apart as you would any parenthetical element:


"I don't care," she said, "what you think about it."


Be careful, though, to begin a new sentence after the attribution if sense calls for it:


"I don't care," she said. "What do you think?"


Convention normally insists that a new paragraph begins with each change of speaker:


"I don't care what you think anymore," she said, jauntily tossing back her hair and looking askance at Edward.
"What do you mean?" he replied.
"What do you mean, 'What do I mean?'"
Alberta sniffed. She was becoming impatient and wished that she were elsewhere.
"You know darn well what I mean!" Edward huffed.
"Have it your way,"
Alberta added, "if that's how you feel."


In proofreading and editing your writing, remember that quotation marks always travel in pairs! Well, almost always. When quoted dialogue carries from one paragraph to another (and to another and another), the closing quotation mark does not appear until the quoted language finally ends (although there is a beginning quotation mark at the start of each new quoted paragraph to remind the reader that this is quoted language). Also, in parenthetical documentation, the period comes after the parenthetical citation which comes after the quotation mark.

In reporting "silent speech"—noting that language is "said," but internally and not spoken out loud—writers are on their own. Writers can put quotation marks around it or not:


Oh, what a beautiful morning, Curly said to himself.


"Oh, what a beautiful morning!" Curly said to himself.


Some writers will set such unspoken language in italics or indent it in order to set it off from other "regular" language. That's probably not a good idea if there is a lot of it because the indents can be confusing and italics can become tiresome to read after a while. The decision will probably depend on the amount of silent speech within the text. Probably the best way to handle silent speech is to find an author whom you like who does a lot of this—Graham Swift in his novel Last Orders, for instance—and copy that author's style. Consistency, of course, is very important.

Be careful not to use quotation marks in an attempt to emphasize a word (the kind of thing you see in grocery store windows—Big "Sale" Today!). Underline or italicize that word instead. (The quotation marks will suggest to some people that you are using that word in a special or peculiar way and that you really mean something else—or that your sale is entirely bogus.)

The American Medical Association Manual of Style (9th ed, 1998) calls misused quotation marks like this Apologetic Quotation Marks and says:

Quotation marks used around words to give special effect or to indicate irony are usually unnecessary. When irony or special effect is intended, skilful preparation can take the place of using these quotes. Resort to apologetic quotation marks or quotation marks used to express irony only after such attempts have failed, keeping in mind that the best writing does not rely on apologetic quotation marks.

We do not enclose indirect quotations in quotation marks. An indirect quotation reports what someone says but not in the exact, original language. Indirect quotations are not heard in the same way that quoted language is heard.


The President said that NAFTA would eventually be a boon to small businesses in both countries.

Professor Villa told her students the textbooks were not yet in the bookstore.


Double Punctuation with Quotations

Occasionally — very occasionally, we hope — we come across a sentence that seems to demand one kind of punctuation mark within quotation marks and another kind of punctuation mark outside the quotation marks. A kind of pecking order of punctuation marks takes over: other marks are stronger than a period and an exclamation mark is usually stronger than a question mark. If a statement ends in a quoted question, allow the question mark within the quotation marks suffice to end the sentence.


Malcolm X had the courage to ask the younger generation of American blacks, "What did we do, who preceded you?"


On the other hand, if a question ends with a quoted statement that is not a question, the question mark will go outside the closing quotation mark.


Who said, "Fame means when your computer modem is broken, the repair guy comes out to your house a little faster"?


If a question ends with a quotation containing an exclamation mark, the exclamation mark will supersede the question and suffice to end the sentence.


Wasn't it Malcolm X who declared, "Why, that's the most hypocritical government since the world began!"


A single question mark will suffice to end a quoted question within a question:


"Didn't he ask, 'What did we do, who preceded you?'" queried Johnson.


Single Quotation Marks

We use single quotation marks [ ] to enclose quoted material (or the titles of poems, stories, articles) within other quoted material:


"'Design' is my favourite poem," he said.

"Did she ask, 'What's going on?'"

Ralph Ellison recalls the Golden Age of Jazz this way: "It was itself a texture of fragments, repetitive, nervous, not fully formed; its melodic lines underground, secret and taunting; its riffs jeering—'Salt peanuts! Salt peanuts!'"


Quiz on Quotation Marks

Place quotation marks where they belong in the following sentences. Add any other punctuation necessary.


1. Do you know Billy Collins's poem On Turning Ten she asked.



2. Of all the poems in his latest book she said this is my favorite. It's really very funny she added



3. Turning towards her brother, she cried Help  There were tears in her eyes and clearly she was anxious about something.

             What's the matter he asked.

             I can't find our little sister she answered.



4. In Collins's poem, the line If you cut me I would shine suggests a child's belief in his own immortality.


5. Collins recalls Shelley's Ode to a Nightingale in his final two lines But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life, / I skin my knees. I bleed


6. In his article Building a Better Vocabulary Darling suggests making vocabulary development a personal mission in life.


7. Joan's English professor asked him what was wrong.




8. So what else is new Raoul asked have you begun your studies in radiology yet




9. What is the main idea in Louise Erdrich's poem Dear John Wayne asked Professor Christie.




10. Who said To be or not to be, that is the question asked Professor Villa.