Quotation Marks

The rules set forth in this section are customary in the United States. Great Britain and other countries in the Commonwealth of Nations are governed by quite different conventions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Rule 3a in this section, a rule that has the advantage of being far simpler than Britain's and the disadvantage of being far less logical.

Rule 1. Use double quotation marks to set off a direct (word-for-word) quotation.

Correct: "I hope you will be here," he said.
Incorrect: He said that he "hoped I would be there." (The quotation marks are incorrect because hoped I would be there does not state the speaker's exact words.)

Rule 2. Quotation marks are used for components, such as chapter titles in a book, individual episodes of a TV series, songs from a Broadway show or a music album, titles of articles or essays in print or online, and shorter works such as short stories and poems.

It is customary in American publishing to put the title of an entire composition in italics. Put the title of a short work—one that is or could be part of a larger undertaking—in quotation marks.

A "composition" is a creative, journalistic, or scholarly enterprise that is whole, complex, a thing unto itself. This includes books, movies, plays, TV shows, newspapers, magazines, websites, music albums, operas, musical theater, paintings, sculptures, and other works of art.

Example: Richard Burton performed the song "Camelot" in the 1960 Broadway musical Camelot.

Although the word is the same, "Camelot" the song takes quotation marks because it's part of a larger work—namely, a full-length show called Camelot.

Rule 3a. Periods and commas ALWAYS go inside quotation marks.

The sign said, "Walk." Then it said, "Don't Walk," then, "Walk," all within thirty seconds.
He yelled, "Hurry up."

Rule 3b. Use single quotation marks for quotations within quotations.

Example: Dan said: "In a town outside Brisbane, I saw 'Tourists go home' written on a wall. But then someone told me, 'Pay it no mind, lad.' "

Note that the period goes inside both the single and double quotation marks. Also note that, as a courtesy, there is visible space between adjacent single and double quotation marks.

Rule 3c. Always capitalize the first word in a complete quotation, even in midsentence.

Example: Bill said, "That job we started last April is done."

Rule 4a. Quotation marks are often used with technical terms, terms used in an unusual way, or other expressions that vary from standard usage.

It's an oil-extraction method known as "fracking."
He did some "experimenting" in his college days.
I had a visit from my "friend" the tax man.

Rule 4b. Never use single quotation marks in sentences like the previous three.

Incorrect: I had a visit from my 'friend' the tax man.

The single quotation marks in the above sentence are intended to send a message to the reader that friend is being used in a special way: in this case, sarcastically. Avoid this invalid usage. Single quotation marks are valid only within a quotation, as per Rule 3b, above.

Rule 5. When quoted material runs more than one paragraph, start each new paragraph with opening quotation marks, but do not use closing quotation marks until the end of the passage.

She wrote: "I don't paint anymore. For a while I thought it was just a phase that I'd get over.
"Now, I don't even try."

Note: For more on quotation marks, see Rules 13a, b, and c in the Commas section, and Rules 10a and 10b in the Capitalization section.

Are you ready for the quiz?

Question Marks, Quotation Marks, and Parentheses Quiz 1

Question Marks, Quotation Marks, and Parentheses Quiz 2