English Grammar in Context – Tense Timelines, Mindmaps, Writing Tips, and More...

How to Use Quotation Marks


There are two kinds of quotation marks - single (') and double ("). These are sometimes called 'inverted commas', and you can see here that we have used single quotation marks to draw attention to the term used. If, for example, we were talking about commas and we wanted to say that they were inverted, we would draw attention to that fact by saying that they were 'inverted' commas, with the emphasis on 'inverted' rather than 'commas'. Are you following so far?


Here is a summary of the rules we will cover:

RULEEXAMPLE
Dialogue or Reported Speech (option 1)"I use quotation marks to emphasise certain words."
Dialogue or Reported Speech (option 2)'I use quotation marks to emphasise certain words.'
Emphasise or draw attention to information or specific words or phrases (option 1)"You said you use quotation marks to emphasise certain words. What do you mean by 'emphasise'?"
Emphasise or draw attention to information or specific words or phrases (option 1)'You said you use quotation marks to emphasise certain words. What do you mean by "emphasise certain words"?'
Quoting (exactly) the words or writing of othersThe official police report specifically stated that "two men were injured" in the crash.
Quoting (exactly) the words or writing of others - the word 'injured' was not necessarily used with the words "two men"The official police report specifically stated that "two men" were 'injured' in the crash.


Quotation marks can be used in different ways, and in different kinds of writing. First, we'll take a look at 1) how they should be used to produce dialogue or first-person speech in creative writing (screen- or script-writing). Then we'll move on to 2) emphasising information or the words of others; before moving on to 3) quoting the words of others, which is a requirement for academia; journalism; law; and many other fields of business where what you want to say is backed up what others have said.


Dialogue and Reported Speech

Here is an example of a sentence in script form. The quotation marks indicate that someone is speaking (or is expected to speak):

"I use quotation marks to emphasise certain words."

Firstly, note that the quotation marks at the end of the sentence follow the full stop. When writing dialogue, where the speech stands alone, the full stop - and the question mark or exclamation mark - is always placed within the quotation marks.

Some people choose the single inverted comma as a quotation mark:

'I use quotation marks to emphasise certain words.'

In script-writing, this is exactly the same. It is simply another option based on personal preference.


Emphasising Information or the Words of Others

Quotation marks are also used to create emphasis or to refer to what someone said by way of repeating it.* In speech, we do this by changing our tone or by using a slight pause before the word(s) we want to emphasise, but it can be achieved in writing as follows:

"You said you use quotation marks to emphasise certain words. What do you mean by 'emphasise'?"

Here, someone else is responding to what our first speaker said above, asking a question intended to clarify meaning. In dialogue (script or screenplay) form, always remember that the punctuation mark which finishes your sentence comes before the quotation marks which close the piece of dialogue. In this example, 'emphasise' is the final word in the sentence, but it is treated the same no matter where it is placed in the sentence. You put your quotation marks on either side of it and resume your sentence as normal. So, the example could also look like this:

"You said you use quotation marks to emphasise certain words. What do you mean by 'emphasise' certain words?"

Here, there is a slight difference in meaning, as the person asking the question is not simply concerned with the meaning of the word 'emphasise'; they are concerned with what it means in the exact context in which it was used. To do this clearly, however, it would be best to write the example as follows:

"You said you use quotation marks to emphasise certain words. What do you mean by 'emphasise certain words'?"

Here, the entire relevant phrase is emphasised, as this is precisely what the speaker wants to focus on. Here are some variations. See if you can figure out the difference:

  1. "You said you use quotation marks to emphasise certain words. What do you mean when by emphasise 'certain' words?"
  2. "You said you use quotation marks to emphasise certain words. What do you mean by emphasise certain 'words'?"
  3. "You said you use quotation marks to 'emphasise certain words'. What do you mean by that?"

Can you see the differences? In 1, the speaker wants to know the meaning of the word 'certain'; in 2, the meaning of the word 'words'; and in 3, the speaker emphasises the phrase in their first sentence, so there is no need to repeat any of the words.

Note that in all of the examples above, we can switch the type of quotation marks from single to double and vice-versa. If you do so, be consistent, as switching back and forth in the same document will be confusing. So, for example, you could write this:

'You said you use quotation marks to emphasise certain words. What do you mean by "emphasise certain words"?'

It means exactly the same as the matching example above. Just like standard dialogue writing, it comes down to personal preference; although we would recommend you stick to the rules provided by whoever you are writing for or to whom you intend to send your writing.


Quoting the Words of Others

This is similar to the previous section, with the same options for single and double quotation marks. In academic, business, legal, educational, and journalistic writing (to name a few), you will often be required to reference external content or someone else's words. The difference in approach is that the text surrounding the quotation or the words of others is not contained within quotation marks. It is written just like this explanatory text you are reading, until you get to a point where you are quoting another text or piece of writing. Take a look at this example:


Option 1

The official police report specifically stated that "two men were injured" in the crash.

Option 2

The official police report specifically stated that 'two men were injured' in the crash.

Both options convey the same information, but Option 1 (double quotation marks) is generally favoured when writing a direct quote (whether it's from someone's speech or a written document). However, this next example shows how information can be taken out of context and paraphrased (or put together) in a different way:


Option 1

The official police report specifically stated that "two men" were 'injured' in the crash.

Option 2

The official police report specifically stated that 'two men' were "injured" in the crash.

In this example, the words "two men" (or 'two men') were featured together in a line written in the report. Unlike the first example, where the entire line was a direct quote from the report, this sentence has been formed by taking the two words quoted directly and paraphrasing. We cannot be sure from this example that the word 'injured' (or "injured") even featured in the report in relation to the two men. Only by knowing the style used throughout the document for direct quotation can be sure; although as above, we feel that double quotation marks are generally favoured by most writers quoting other people.


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