Used to recognize words that were said by someone else, quotation marks mean different things in different types of writing. In fiction or creative writing, it is used to identify dialogues. In newspapers or nonfiction writing, it is used to identify direct quotes. When writing formal or academic papers, it is used to identify someone else’s material or content. Always written in pairs, the first set starts the quote and the second set ends it.
Quotation Marks: American vs. British
Differing in the rules on the usage of quotation marks, American English reserve double quotation marks (“ ”) for quotes and single quotation marks for quotes within quotes. In British English, this rule is exactly the opposite. Another distinction is that in American English, other punctuations, like periods and commas, are placed before the closing quotation marks.
Again, in British English, it is the opposite: other punctuations are placed after the closing quotation marks. It is important to remember that this article addresses the rules for using quotation marks as per American English.
When writing dialogues, it can get confusing when trying to place other punctuations near quotation marks.
When a dialogue contains a declarative statement, place the period before the closing quotation mark. Treating it separately, ensure the phrase inside quotation marks contain its own accurate punctuation. If the quoted phrase is a complete sentence, begin it with a capital letter even if it is part of a larger sentence.
Example: Sarah said, “I am going to study.”
When a dialogue contains an exclamatory statement, place the exclamation mark before the closing quotation mark.
Example: Nick cried, “Sarah, wait for me!”
If a dialogue contains a declarative statement that ends with a dialogue tag, the period turns into a comma and should be placed before the closing quotation mark.
Example: “Nick, I’m sorry but I prefer to study alone,” replied Sarah.
As with exclamation marks, if a dialogue contains an interrogative sentence, placed the question mark before the closing quotation mark.
Example: Nick pleaded, “Oh no! Let me come with you, please?”
In some situations, due to the conversational context, dialogue tags are omitted when it’s clear who the speaker is.
Example: “Alright, fine. Meet me at that library in the evening.”
When dialogue tags are located in the middle of a dialogue, the comma is placed before the first closing quotation mark and immediately after the dialog tag (which is before the second opening quotation mark.) Also, when there is a quote within a quote, use single quotation marks for the inner quote and double quotation marks for the outer quote.
Example: “Thanks,” said Nick before asking, “What do you mean by ‘that library’: the school library or the public library?”
The last two examples of dialogues omit dialogue tags as it is clear who the speaker is.
When writing nonfiction or academic papers, you will need to quote people without writing it like a dialogue. While the rules are the same regarding the placement of other punctuations with quotation marks, the sentences should be carefully constructed to ensure the quoted words are written with grammatical accuracy.
A common problem is to suddenly switch from the third person to the first person in the middle of a quote. It is essential to maintain consistent tenses and point of view when changing from sentence to quote.
Example: Adam prides on his cooking skills and wants to “become the greatest chef in the world.”
Ava is an ambitious individual who “always dreams big.”
To imply usage of a term in an unconventional manner or to imply disapproval, enclose the phrase or word in scare quotes or shudder quotes. Scare quotes are basically quotation marks that are used this way. While commonly used this way, scare quotes should never be used to add emphasis or significance of a particular phrase or word.
A common problem when using scare quotes is to overuse them. This not only undermines the power of scare quotes but also makes the document annoying to read. It’s best to avoid using scare quotes when writing for an audience that is unfamiliar with the subject. In such situations, focus on explaining the meanings and intricacies behind the terms.
Example: The hotel provided a lot of “amenities” for their patrons.