Quotation Marks: A Comprehensive Guide

Even native English speakers struggle with quotation marks sometimes. There are several rules that dictate how and when to use them correctly.

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That said, it’s pretty simple when you’re just quoting someone; you put a double quotation mark at the beginning of the quote and a double quotation mark at the end. Pretty easy, right?

But what do you do when you’ve got multiple quotes in one sentence? Do punctuation marks go inside or outside of quotation marks? Finally, can you use quotation marks even when you’re not quoting someone?

We will answer all of these questions and more, but first, let’s look at the basic function of quotation marks:

(Prefer to watch this lesson on video? Here’s our full length tutorial on “Quotation Marks”):

‘Quotation Marks in English:

How to Use Quotation Marks

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The primary function of the quotation mark is to denote written text that was originally said or written by someone else. You put a double quotation mark (“) at the beginning of a quote and one at the end.

For example, if you want to use a famous quote, it would look something like this:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched — they must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller

However, the person who made the quote doesn’t have to be famous.

If you write anything that someone said, you should put it in quotations. Otherwise, you’re stealing someone’s words and pretending that they’re your own!

Writing Dialogue in Fiction

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Writers frequently use quotation marks in fiction.

This often means that they are quoting people who don’t even exist! For example, if you’re writing a short story, it might include a conversation like this:

“Are you ready for the exam?” she asked.

“Not really,” he answered. “I’m actually pretty worried.”

This is what’s known as direct dialogue.

The writer is reporting an exact quote that someone has spoken or written. The opposite of direct dialogue is indirect dialogue, in which the writer gives a report of something that was said. If it is not an exact quote, therefore it does not require quotation marks.

It’s also important to remember that dialogue in a story is separated by the speaker. In other words, every time a new person begins speaking, you must start a new paragraph. If you don’t, the reader might get confused about which character is speaking!

Citing Sources in Essays and Reports

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If you need to write an essay for school or a report for your job, you might need to use information from sources other than yourself. This means that you will probably write quotes from other people. You should always cite your sources so that the reader knows exactly who made the original quote.

Here’s an example:

The stock market is in a deep decline. Many experts fear that a recession is imminent. According to financial analyst Stephen Roach, the United States might be headed for a “double-dip recession” that could be “catastrophic.”

In the example above, the writer identifies the speaker, Stephen Roach, and uses his exact words within the quotation marks (double-dip recession and catastrophic). You’ll also notice that you can use multiple quotes within the same sentence. All you have to do is designate each quote with its own set of quotation marks.

Quotation Marks and Punctuation

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There are several important grammar rules you’ll need to know when using quotations. Depending on how you introduce a quote, you’ll need to follow different punctuation rules.

Here are the most important quotation mark rules you’ll need to remember:

Punctuation marks always go inside the quotation marks.

CORRECT: “Go away!” he shouted.

INCORRECT: “Go away”! he shouted.

CORRECT: “I really don’t feel well today,” she said.

INCORRECT: “I really don’t feel well today”, she said.

CORRECT: He said, “Never say never.”

INCORRECT: He said, “Never say never”.

You’ll notice that some of these examples use quotes that begin with a capital letter, while others do not. The rule is that if the quote is an independent clause, it must always begin with a capital letter, regardless of where it falls in the sentence. If the quote is a dependent clause, it does not need to begin with a capital letter.

If you introduce the source or speaker first, you must put a comma before the first quotation mark.

Example 1: She asked, “What are you doing?”

Example 2: According to the official report, “There was no evidence of foul play.”

If you introduce the source or speaker after the quote, you must put a comma or punctuation mark before the last quotation mark.

Example 1: “I’ve never liked to play sports,” he said.

Example 2: “I can’t wait to go to the party!” she exclaimed.

Example 3: “Where are you going?” he asked.

Usually, the period that would be at the end of a quote is replaced by a comma, like in Example 1.

However, if the quote requires a specific kind of punctuation other than a period (exclamation point or question mark), you should use the actual punctuation. No matter what kind of punctuation mark comes before the second quotation mark, you should not capitalize the first letter after the quotation mark, as it is all considered part of the same sentence.

If you use a quote within a quote, you must use double quotation marks for the larger quote and single quotation marks for the smaller quote.

Example 1: “Sarah is working late, so she says she will need ‘a little extra time’” he said.

Example 2: The driver said, “I was in my own lane until he shouted ‘get out of my way!’ and zoomed past me.”

You’ll notice that you have to use the single quotations to denote the smaller quote, even if one of them is immediately followed or preceded by double quotation marks.

Quotation Marks for Non-Quotes

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Finally, we’ll look at using quotation marks in English writing for non-quotes. This is typically reserved for informal writing, so there are no hard-and-fast rules regarding usage. Quotation marks that do not quote anything usually change the tone of a word, phrase, or sentence. You can generally use quotation marks for non-quotes in the following situations:

To demonstrate a sarcastic tone

Example: I “love” doing math homework.

To question the legitimacy of something

Example: He thinks that he’s an “intellectual,” but he’s not very bright.

To indicate an informal name or expression

Example: Australia is known as “The Land Down Under.”

To name part of a larger work, like a chapter or episode

Example: My favorite episode of Friends is “The One Where Everybody Finds Out.”

Again, you should usually reserve these types of quotation marks for informal writing (with the exception of chapters and episodes). Since quotation marks are meant for quotes, that’s how you should use them in formal writing (like essays or reports).

However, with informal writing, you have a lot more freedom to use them to demonstrate a specific tone or implication.

Some people even use quotation marks for non-quotes when speaking.

They do this by extending and bending their pointer and middle fingers to form the shape of double quotation marks. This usually indicates sarcasm or questions the legitimacy of something said. However, you don’t have to use “finger quotes” when speaking. They’re completely optional!

Conclusion

Though there are different rules to learn, quotation marks are not too complicated in English. As long as you put one at the beginning of a quote and one at the end, you’re probably good to go! In any case, if you want to write with proper English grammar, you’ll need to memorize the rules above.

We hope you found this overview on how to use quotation marks useful! Interested in learning more about our english tutoring offer for starters?

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy from the University of Georgia. It was during his time in school that he published his first written work. After serving as a casting director in the Atlanta film industry for two years, Matthew acquired TEFL certification and began teaching English abroad. In 2017, Matthew started writing for dozens of different brands across various industries. During this time, Matthew also built an online following through his film blog. If you’d like to learn more about Matthew, you can connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or his personal website!
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