Quotation Marks (Inverted Commas)

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Introduction - When to Use

Any words, spoken or written by somebody else, should be enclosed in quotation marks. For example,

My teacher asked, “David, why are you always day-dreaming and looking out of the window?”

Single or double quotes

There are two types of quotation marks – single (‘) and double (“). The term ‘inverted commas’ is a commonly used alternative term in UK English. Whether single or double quotes are used is determined by either personal preference or any style guide that is to be followed. The choice should be consistent throughout and the two styles should only be used together when required to show “quotations within quotations” as shown in one of the examples below.

Punctation and capitalization within quotes

Start with a capital letter if the quote is a complete sentence. For example,

One of my favourite quotes is, “Try to understand instead of criticising.”

Do not use a capital if you are quoting only a fragment of a sentence. For example,

I clearly recall him saying that he was “slightly unsure about it.”

If a quote is interrupted, similar punctuation rules apply. For example,

Jack was heard to say, “We do not care how much it costs,” although he went on to add, “we don’t have any money.”

Punctuation and quotation marks

A comma is generally used before a quotation to separate it from the words that come before it.

A punctuation mark (comma, period, question mark) is used before a closing quotation mark.

Note: There are differences between different style guides (and UK and US English usage in particular) in punctuation practices around quotation marks. US English places punctuation inside the quotations while UK English does not unless the punctuation is part of the quotation.

Nested Quotes

As noted above, the use single and double quotes can be combined to show ‘quotes within a quote.’ For example,

My father used to say to me, “David, ask ‘What can I do to help?’ instead of ‘When will dinner be ready?’”

Names/ titles

Quotation marks are used around titles. For example,

It is quite common to find people whose favourite film is “The Shawshank Redemption.”