In English writing, quotation marks or inverted commas (informally referred to as quotes or speech marks) are punctuation marks surrounding a quotation, direct speech, or a literal title or name. Quotation marks can also be used to indicate a different meaning of a word or phrase than the one typically associated with it and are often used to express irony. Quotation marks are sometimes used to provide emphasis, although this is usually considered incorrect.
Quotation marks are written as a pair of opening and closing marks in either of two styles: single (‘…’) or double (“…”). Opening and closing quotation marks may be identical in form (called neutral, vertical, straight, typewriter, or "dumb" quotation marks), or may be distinctly left-handed and right-handed (typographic or, colloquially, curly quotation marks); see quotation mark glyphs for details. Typographic quotation marks are usually used in manuscript and typeset text. Because typewriter and computer keyboards lack keys to directly enter typographic quotation marks, much typed writing has neutral quotation marks. The "smart quotes" feature in some computer software can convert neutral quotation marks to typographic ones, but sometimes imperfectly.
The closing single quotation mark is identical or similar in form to the apostrophe and similar to the prime symbol. However, these three characters have quite different purposes. The double quotation mark is similar to, and often used to represent, the ditto mark and the double prime symbol.
In the first centuries of typesetting, quotations were distinguished merely by indicating the speaker, and this can still be seen in some editions of the Bible. During the Renaissance, quotations were distinguished by setting in a typeface contrasting with the main body text (often Italic type with roman, or the other way around). Long quotations were also set this way, at full size and full measure.
Quotation marks were first cut in metal type during the middle of the sixteenth century, and were used copiously by some printers by the seventeenth. In some Baroque and Romantic-period books, they would be repeated at the beginning of every line of a long quotation. When this practice was abandoned, the empty margin remained, leaving the modern form of indented block quotation.
In Early Modern English, quotation marks were used only to denote pithy comments. They first began to quote direct speech in 1714. By 1749, single quotation marks, or inverted commas, were commonly used to denote direct speech.
Quotations and speech
Single or double quotation marks denote either speech or a quotation. Double quotes are preferred in the United States, and also tend to be preferred in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Single quotes are more usual in the United Kingdom and South Africa, though double quotes are also common there. A publisher's or author's style may take precedence over regional general preferences. The important idea is that the style of opening and closing quotation marks must be matched:
- 'Good morning, Frank,' said Hal.
- "Good morning, Frank," said Hal.
For speech within speech, the other style is used as inner quotation marks:
- 'Hal said, "Good morning, Dave,"' recalled Frank.
- "Hal said, 'Good morning, Dave,'" recalled Frank.
Sometimes quotations are nested in more levels than inner and outer quotation. Nesting levels up to five can be found in the Christian Bible. In these cases, questions arise about the form (and names) of the quotation marks to be used. The most common way is to simply alternate between the two forms, thus:
- "…'…"…' … '…"…'…"
If such a passage is further quoted in another publication, then all of their forms have to be shifted up by one level.
In most cases, quotations that span multiple paragraphs should be set as block quotations, and thus do not require quotation marks. Quotation marks are used for multiple-paragraph quotations in some cases, especially in narratives. The convention in English is to give opening quotation marks to the first and each subsequent paragraph, using closing quotation marks only for the final paragraph of the quotation, as in the following example from Pride and Prejudice:
- The letter was to this effect:
- "My dear Lizzy,
- "I wish you joy. If you love Mr. Darcy half as well as I do my dear Wickham, you must be very happy. It is a great comfort to have you so rich, and when you have nothing else to do, I hope you will think of us. I am sure Wickham would like a place at court very much, and I do not think we shall have quite money enough to live upon without some help. Any place would do, of about three or four hundred a year; but however, do not speak to Mr. Darcy about it, if you had rather not.
- "Yours, etc."
As noted above, in some older texts, the quotation mark is repeated every line, rather than every paragraph. The Spanish convention uses closing quotation marks at the beginning of all subsequent paragraphs beyond the first.
When quoted text is interrupted, such as with the phrase he said, a closing quotation mark is used before the interruption, and an opening quotation mark after. Commas are also often used before and after the interruption, more often for quotations of speech than for quotations of text:
- "Hal," noted Frank, "said that everything was going extremely well."
Quotation marks are not used for paraphrased speech. This is because a paraphrase is not a direct quote, and in the course of any composition, it is important to document when one is using a quotation versus when one is using a paraphrased idea, which could be open to interpretation.
If Hal says: "All systems are functional", then:
- Incorrect: Hal said "everything was going extremely well".
- Correct: Hal said that everything was going extremely well.
Another common use of quotation marks is to indicate or call attention to ironic or apologetic words:
- He shared his "wisdom" with me.
- The lunch lady plopped a glob of "food" onto my tray.
Quotes indicating verbal irony, or other special use, are sometimes called scare quotes. They are sometimes gestured in oral speech using air quotes, or indicated in speech with a tone change or by replacement with supposed[ly] or so-called.
Signaling unusual usage
Quotation marks are also used to indicate that the writer realizes that a word is not being used in its current commonly accepted sense:
- Crystals somehow "know" which shape to grow into.
In addition to conveying a neutral attitude and to call attention to a neologism, or slang, or special terminology (also known as jargon), quoting can also indicate words or phrases that are descriptive but unusual, colloquial, folksy, startling, humorous, metaphoric, or contain a pun: Dawkins's concept of a meme could be described as an "evolving idea".
People also use quotation marks in this way to distance the writer from the terminology in question so as not to be associated with it, for example to indicate that a quoted word is not official terminology, or that a quoted phrase presupposes things that the author does not necessarily agree with; or to indicate special terminology that should be identified for accuracy's sake as someone else's terminology, as when a term (particularly a controversial term) pre-dates the writer or represents the views of someone else, perhaps without judgement (contrast this neutrally-distancing quoting to the negative use of scare quotes).
The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, acknowledges this type of use but, in section 7.58, cautions against its overuse: "Quotation marks are often used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard, ironic, or other special sense … [T]hey imply 'This is not my term,' or 'This is not how the term is usually applied.' Like any such device, scare quotes lose their force and irritate readers if overused."
- Cheese is derived from milk.
- "Cheese" is derived from a word in Old English.
- Cheese has calcium, protein, and phosphorus.
- Cheese has three Es.
A three-way distinction is occasionally made between normal use of a word (no quotation marks), referring to the concept behind the word (single quotation marks), and the word itself (double quotation marks):
- When discussing 'use', use "use".
The logic for this derives from the need to distinguish use forms, coupled with the mandate to retain consistent notation for like use forms. The switching between double and single quotes in nested citation quotes reveals the same literary device for reducing ambiguity.
Writing about language often uses italics for the word itself and single quotation marks for a gloss, with the two not separated by a comma or other punctuation, and with strictly logical quotation around the gloss – extraneous terminal punctuation outside the quotation marks – even in North American publications, which might otherwise prefer them inside:
- Latin ovis 'sheep', canis 'dog', and equus 'horse' are nouns.
Titles of artistic works
Quotation marks, rather than italics, are generally used for the titles of shorter works. Whether these are single or double depends on the context; however, many styles, especially for poetry, prefer the use of single quotation marks.
- Short fiction, poetry, etc.: Arthur C. Clarke's "The Sentinel"
- Book chapters: The first chapter of 3001: The Final Odyssey is "Comet Cowboy"
- Articles in books, magazines, journals, etc.: "Extra-Terrestrial Relays", Wireless World, October 1945
- Album tracks, singles, etc.: David Bowie's "Space Oddity"
As a rule, a whole publication would be italicised, whereas the titles of minor works within or a subset of the larger publication (such as poems, short stories, named chapters, journal papers, newspaper articles, TV show episodes, video game levels, editorial sections of websites, etc.) would be written with quotation marks.
- Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
- Dahl's "Taste" in Completely Unexpected Tales
Nicknames and false titles
Quotation marks can also offset a nickname embedded in an actual name, or a false or ironic title embedded in an actual title; for example, Nat "King" Cole, Miles "Tails" Prower, or John "Hannibal" Smith.
Quotes are sometimes used for emphasis in lieu of underlining or italics, most commonly on signs or placards. This usage can be confused with ironic or altered-usage quotation, sometimes with unintended humor. For example, For sale: "fresh" fish, "fresh" oysters, could be construed to imply that fresh is not used with its everyday meaning, or indeed to indicate that the fish or oysters are anything but fresh. As another example, Cashiers' desks open until noon for your "convenience" could be interpreted to mean that the convenience was for the bank employees, not the customers.
With regard to quotation marks adjacent to periods and commas, there are two styles of punctuation in widespread use. These two styles are most commonly referred to as "American" and "British". Both systems have the same rules regarding question marks, exclamation points, colons, and semicolons. They differ on the treatment of periods and commas.
In all major forms of English, question marks and exclamation marks are placed inside or outside quoted material depending on whether they apply to the whole sentence or just the quoted portion, but colons and semicolons are always placed outside.
- Did he say, "Good morning, Dave"?
- No, he said, "Where are you, Dave?"
- There are three major definitions of the word "gender": vernacular, sociological, and linguistic.
The prevailing style in the United Kingdom and other non-American locales—called British style and logical quotation—is to include within quotation marks only those punctuation marks that appeared in the quoted material but otherwise to place punctuation outside the closing quotation marks. Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage provides an early example of the rule: "All signs of punctuation used with words in quotation marks must be placed according to the sense." When dealing with words-as-words, short-form works and sentence fragments, this style places periods and commas outside the quotation marks:
- "Carefree", in general, means "free from care or anxiety".
- The name of the song was "Gloria", which many already knew.
- She said she felt "free from care and anxiety".
When dealing with direct speech, British placement depends on whether or not the quoted statement is complete or a fragment. According to the British style guide Butcher's Copy-editing, American style should be used when writing fiction. In non-fiction, some British publishers may permit placing punctuation that is not part of the person's speech inside the quotation marks but prefer that it be placed outside. Periods and commas that are part of the person's speech are permitted inside the quotation marks regardless of whether the material is fiction.
- "Today," said Cinderella, "I feel free from care and anxiety." (fiction)
- "Today", said the Prime Minister, "I feel free from care and anxiety." (preferred in non-fiction)
- "Today I feel happy," said the woman, "carefree, and well." (regardless)
In the U.S., the prevailing style is called American style, whereby commas and periods are almost always placed inside closing quotation marks. This style of punctuation is common in the U.S. and Canada, and is the style usually recommended by The Chicago Manual of Style and most other American style guides. However, some American style guides specific to certain specialties, such as linguistics, prefer the British style. For example, the journal Language of the Linguistic Society of America requires logical quotation.
When dealing with words-as-words, short-form works and sentence fragments, this style places periods and commas inside the quotation marks:
- "Carefree," in general, means "free from care or anxiety."
- The name of the song was "Gloria," which many already knew.
- She said she felt "free from care and anxiety."
This style also places periods and commas inside the quotation marks when dealing with direct speech, regardless of whether the work is fiction or non-fiction:
- "Today," said Cinderella, "I feel free from care and anxiety." (fiction)
- "Today," said the Prime Minister, "I feel free from care and anxiety." (non-fiction)
Many American style guides explicitly permit periods and commas outside the quotation marks when the presence of the punctuation mark inside the quotation marks will lead to ambiguity, such as when describing keyboard input:
- In the programming language Pascal, the statement "
end.", including the period/full stop, signifies the end of a program.
In both major styles, regardless of placement, only one end mark (?, !, or .) can end a sentence. Only the period, however, may not end a quoted sentence when it does not also end the enclosing sentence, except for literal text:
- "Hello, world," she said. (American style)
- "Hello, world", she said. (British non-fiction)
- She said, "Hello, world." (both styles)
- "Hello, world!" she exclaimed. (both styles)
- "Is anybody out there?" she asked into the void. (both styles)
In English, when a quotation follows other writing on a line of text, a space precedes the opening quotation mark unless the preceding symbol, such as an em dash, requires that there be no space. When a quotation is followed by other writing on a line of text, a space follows the closing quotation mark unless it is immediately followed by other punctuation within the sentence, such as a colon or closing punctuation. (These exceptions are ignored by some Asian computer systems that systematically display quotation marks with the included spacing, as this spacing is part of the fixed-width characters.)
There is generally no space between an opening quotation mark and the following word, or a closing quotation mark and the preceding word. When a double quotation mark or a single quotation mark immediately follows the other, proper spacing for legibility may suggest that a non-breaking space ( ) or thin space ( ) be inserted.
- So Dave actually said, "He said, 'Good morning' "?
- Yes, he did say, "He said, 'Good morning.' "
This is not common practice in mainstream publishing, which will generally use more precise kerning. It is more common in online writing, although using CSS to create the spacing by kerning is more semantically appropriate in Web typography than inserting extraneous spacing characters.
Straight quotation marks (or italicized straight quotation marks) are often used to approximate the prime and double prime, e.g., when signifying feet and inches, arcminutes and arcseconds or minutes and seconds, where the quotation mark symbolises the latter part of the pair. For instance, 5 feet and 6 inches is often written 5' 6"; and 40 degrees, 20 arcminutes, and 50 arcseconds is written 40° 20' 50". When available, however, the prime should be used instead (e.g., 5′ 6″, and 40° 20′ 50″). Prime and double prime are not present in most code pages, including ASCII and Latin-1, but are present in Unicode, as characters U+2032 ′ prime and U+2033 ″ double prime.
Double quotation marks, or pairs of single ones, are also often used to represent the ditto mark.
Straight single and double quotation marks are used in most programming languages to delimit strings or literal characters, collectively known as string literals. In some languages (e.g. Pascal) only one type is allowed, in some (e.g. C and its derivatives) both are used with different meanings and in others (e.g. Python) both are used interchangeably. In some languages, if it is desired to include the same quotation marks used to delimit a string inside the string, the quotation marks are doubled. For example, to represent the string eat 'hot' dogs in Pascal one uses 'eat ''hot'' dogs'. Other languages use an escape character, often the backslash, as in 'eat \'hot\' dogs'.
Typing quotation marks on a computer keyboard
Standard English computer keyboard layouts inherited the single and double straight quotation marks from the typewriter (the single quotation mark also doubling as an apostrophe), and they do not include individual keys for left-handed and right-handed typographic quotation marks. However, most computer text-editing programs provide a "smart quotes" feature (see below) to automatically convert straight quotation marks into typographic punctuation. Generally, this smart quote feature is enabled by default. Some websites do not allow typographic quotation marks or apostrophes in posts. One can skirt these limitations, however, by using the HTML character codes or entities.
|Windows Alt code combinations||Macintosh key combinations||Linux (X) keys||Unicode point||HTML entity||HTML decimal|
|Single opening||‘||Alt+0145 (on number pad)||⌥ Opt+]||Compose+<+' or Alt Gr+⇧ Shift+V||U+2018||
|’||Alt+0146 (on number pad)||⌥ Opt+⇧ Shift+]||Compose+>+' or Alt Gr+⇧ Shift+B||U+2019||
|Double opening||“||Alt+0147 (on number pad)||⌥ Opt+[||Compose+<+" or Alt Gr+V||U+201C||
|Double closing||”||Alt+0148 (on number pad)||⌥ Opt+⇧ Shift+[||Compose+>+" or Alt Gr+B||U+201D||
To make typographic quotation marks easier to enter, publishing software often automatically converts typewriter quotation marks (and apostrophes) to typographic form during text entry (with or without the users being aware of it). These are known as smart quotes (“ ”). Straight quotation marks are also known as dumb quotes (" "). Some word processing programs incorrectly produce an opening single quotation mark in places where an apostrophe is required, for example, in abbreviated years like ‘08 for 2008, or ‘tis for It is. In the TeX typesetting program, left double quotes are produced by typing `` (two back-ticks) and right double quotes by typing two apostrophes.
- Western Latin character sets (computing)
- Non-English usage of quotation marks
- Typewriter conventions
- U+02EE ˮ modifier letter double apostrophe
- Barber, 2004.
- English Department, 1999.
- Language Log: Dubious quotation marks
- Bringhurst (2002), p 86.
- Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots & Leaves, 2003. p. 151. ISBN 1-59240-087-6.
- The Penguin Guide to Punctuation, R. L. Trask, p. 94.
- Jeremiah 27:1-11; 29:1-28; 29:30-32; 34:1-5; Ezekiel 27:1-36
- Stilman, Ann. Grammatically Correct, 1997. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-89879-776-3.
- "The Chicago Manual of Style Online". Retrieved 2007-11-08.
- Butcher, J.; Drake, C.; Leach, M. (2006). Butcher's Copy-Editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-Editors and Proofreaders (4th ed ed.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
- "Language Style Sheet". Language. Washington, DC, US: Linguistic Society of America. 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-23. "After the first occurrence of non-English forms, provide a gloss in single quotation marks: Latin ovis 'sheep' is a noun. No comma precedes the gloss and no comma follows, unless necessary for other reasons: Latin ovis 'sheep', canis 'dog', and equus 'horse' are nouns."
- TJHSST[dead link]
- "Punctuating Around Quotation Marks" (blog). Style Guide of the American Psychological Association. 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-25.
- "Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies – Style Guide" (PDF). U. of Aberdeen, Scotland: Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies. 2008. Retrieved 2011-10-22. "Punctuation marks are placed inside the quotation marks only if the sense of the punctuation is part of the quotation; this system is referred to as logical quotation."
- Ben Yagoda (12 May 2011). "The Rise of "Logical Punctuation".". Slate. Retrieved 2011-05-13.
- Burchfield, R.W., ed. (1996). The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 646. Emphasis in original.
- Butcher, Judith; et al. (2006). Butcher's Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 273. ISBN 978-0-521-84713-1.
- The Associated Press Stylebook, p. 337; The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed., ch. 6.9, pp. 242–243, http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/CMS_FAQ/Punctuation/Punctuation50.html; Strunk, William Jr., and White, E. B. ,The Elements of Style, Pearson Education Company, 4th ed., p. 36; McFarlane and Warren Clements. The Globe and Mail Style Book, 9th ed., p. 237; Brinck, Tom, et al., Usability for the Web, Morgan Kaufmann, 2002, p. 277.
- Stephen Wilbers. "Frequently Asked Questions Concerning Punctuation*" (web site). Retrieved 2011-10-25.
- Lingustic Society of America official website.
- The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition; Hart's Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press, Oxford; Merriam-Webster's Guide to Punctuation and Style, second edition.
- See the WWW Consortium tables here.
- David Spencer (31 January 2011). "Typographic Train Wrecks". Type Desk. Matador. Retrieved 2011-01-31.
- Barber, Katherine, ed., Barber, Katherine, ed. (2004). The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (second ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-541816-6.
- Bringhurst, Robert (2002). The Elements of Typographic Style, version 2.5. Vancouver, Hartley & Marks. ISBN 0-88179-133-4.
- Butcher, Judith (1992). Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Authors and Publishers, third edition. pp 264–266. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-40074-0.
- English Department (26 July 1999). "3.8 - Quotation Marks". University of Calgary. Retrieved 2010-12-19.
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