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. Here is one simple rule to remember:

In the United States, periods and commas go inside quotation marks regardless of logic. Click HERE for an explanation (sort of).

In the United Kingdom, Canada, and islands under the influence of British education, punctuation around quotation marks is more apt to follow logic. In American style, then, you would write: My favorite poem is Robert Frost's "Design." But in England you would write: My favorite 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):

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:

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

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:

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

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

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

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 (see the Guide to Writing Research Papers), the period comes after the parenthetical citation which comes after the quotation mark" (Darling 553).

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:

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.

Some interesting things can happen with verb tenses when we report action in indirect or reported speech ("The president said that he was going to Egypt tomorrow"). For help with this issue, we would refer to you Professor Mary Nell Sorensen's Web site at the University of Washington.

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, skillful 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. (p 220)

Refer to Capital's Guide for Writing Research Papers and, especially, the English faculty's Suggestions for Writing Papers for Literature Courses for further help in handling quotations.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

Authority for this section: New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage HarperCollins: New York. 1994. 277. Cited with permission, examples our own.

Single Quotation Marks

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

British practice, again, is quite different. In fact, single-quote marks and double-quote marks are apt to be reversed in usage. Instructors in the U.S. should probably take this into account when reading papers submitted by students who have gone to school in other parts of the globe.

In newspapers, single quotation marks are used in headlines where double quotation marks would otherwise appear.

In some fields, key terms may be set apart with single-quote marks. In such cases, periods and commas go outside the single-quote marks:

When the term is case-sensitive, capitalization remains unchanged despite placement in the sentence.

QuizQuizzes on Punctuation Marks

period || question mark || exclamation mark || colon || semicolon || hyphen || dash
parentheses || brackets || ellipsis || apostrophe || comma || slash

*There are peculiar typographical reasons why the period and comma go inside the quotation mark in the United States. The following explanation comes from the "Frequently Asked Questions" file of alt.english.usage: "In the days when printing used raised bits of metal, "." and "," were the most delicate, and were in danger of damage (the face of the piece of type might break off from the body, or be bent or dented from above) if they had a '"' on one side and a blank space on the other. Hence the convention arose of always using '."' and ',"' rather than '".' and '",', regardless of logic." This seems to be an argument to return to something more logical, but there is little impetus to do so within the United States.