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Punctuation Rules for Quotation Marks in Written English

Quotation MarksPunctuation marks, as a convention of writing, help to make reading and writer easier by ensuring the clarity of written language. There are six punctuation rules for using double quotation marks and single quotation marks as punctuation marks in written American English:

  1. Double quotation marks with direct quotations
  2. Single quotation marks inside double quotation marks
  3. Double quotation marks with minor titles
  4. Double or single quotation marks with translations
  5. Double quotation marks with novel uses
  6. Single quotation marks in titles

The following sections explain and provide examples of the punctuation rules for double and single quotation marks in written English.

Double Quotation Marks with Direct Quotations

Use double quotation marks to enclose a direct quotation. For example:

  • When asked about his writing a book, Edward Gibbon declared, “Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book.”
  • “Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game,” said Donald Trump.
  • “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues,” Cicero once mused, “but the parent of all others.”

Single Quotation Marks with Quotation Marks

Use single quotation marks to enclose direct quotations that occur inside of other direct quotations. For example:

  • The anchorwoman reported, “And when asked about his motive, the suspected arsonist said, ‘Fire is so beautiful.'”
  • The book begins, “She was falling down a hole. ‘Help!’ she shouted. Echoes of her own voice were the reply to her cries of fear.”
  • He said, “Marc was shouting, and Diana cried, ‘Please do not treat me that way.’ He just stared blankly at her.”

Double Quotation Marks with Titles

Use double quotation marks to enclose titles of minor works and parts of wholes such as short stories; magazine, newspaper, journal, and other periodical articles; short poems; essays; songs; one-act plays; speeches, lectures, and sermons; chapters; short films; and television and radio show episodes. For example:

  • Did you read the story “Dog shoots man in leg” in today’s newspaper?
  • My favorite poem is “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost.
  • Have you seen the episode “Mr. Monks Gets a Job” of Monk?

Do not use double quotation marks to enclose titles of major works such as books; magazines, newspapers, journals, and other periodicals; albums; full-length plays; and television and radio shows.

Double or Single Quotation Marks with Translations

Use double quotation marks to mark the translation of a word or phrase from a foreign language. For example:

  • The Old English noun hund “dog” became the Modern English word hound.
  • The saying Que sera sera “Whatever will be will be” is a popular English expression borrowed from Spanish.

Also use single quotation marks to mark the translation of a word or phrase from a foreign language. For example:

  • Café con leche ‘coffee with milk’ is a popular drink in Spain.
  • The German concept Zeitgeist ‘time ghost’ is difficult to translate into English.

Do not mix double and single quotation marks to mark translations.

Double Quotation Marks with Novel Uses

Use double quotation marks to highlight novel uses of words and phrases including to indicate a special sense of use and to indicate words and phrases being purposely misused or being used ironically. For example:

  • The dog knows to wipe his “feet” before entering the house.
  • My daughter likes to ride the “elebrator” at the mall.

Do not use double quotation marks after the modifiers so-called and supposed.

Single Quotation Marks in Titles

Use single quotation marks in titles to identify words and phrases that would otherwise be enclosed in double quotation marks or italicized within the body of the text. For example:

  • ‘So Much for the Afterglow’ Tops the Music Charts
  • John McCain Calls North Korean Dictator A ‘Clown’
  • The Candidate Declared ‘No New Taxes’

For information about the use of italics, see Rules for Italicization in Written English.

Punctuation marks are a convention of writing that ensure clarity in written language for readers and writers. Double and single quotation marks perform five main functions in written American English: double quotation marks with direct quotations, single quotation marks inside double quotation marks, double quotation marks with minor titles, double or single quotation marks with translations, double quotation marks with novel uses, and single quotation marks in titles.

References

Faigley, Lester. 2003. The Brief Penguin Handbook. New York: Pearson Longman.
Gibaldi, Joseph. 2003. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America.

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