Quotation mark facts for kids
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English quotation marks
Quotation marks or inverted commas (informally known as quotes and speech marks) are punctuation marks used in pairs to mark a section of text as speech, a quotation, a phrase, or an unusual word. They are used in groups of 2, as a pair of opening and closing marks. They are used in either of two forms: single (‘…’) or double (“…”).
Depending on the typeface, the opening and closing quotation marks may be identical in form (called "vertical" or "straight" or "typewriter" quotation marks), or they may be distinctly left-handed and right-handed ("typographic" or, colloquially, "curly" quotation marks). 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. See also: ditto mark.
- Typographical considerations
- Typing quotation marks on a computer keyboard
- Related pages
- Images for kids
Quotations and speech
Quotation marks show that part of the text is either a person speaking or a quotation. Double quotation marks are used as a rule in the United States, while both single and double quotation marks are used in the United Kingdom and other commonwealth countries. A publisher's or author's style can be considered as more important than national preferences. However, 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 mark is used for inner quotations, within a quotation:
- Frank reported that ‘HAL said, "Good morning, Dave,"’.
- Frank reported that "HAL said, ‘Good morning, Dave,’".
Sometimes, quotations are nested in more than two levels. Nesting levels up to five can be found in some translations of the 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 over by one level.
In most cases, quotations which 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 put an opening quotation mark at the first and each subsequent paragraph, but use a closing quotation mark only for the final paragraph of the quotation, as in the following example from the book 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.
As noted below, 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.”
It is incorrect to use quotation marks for paraphrased speech. This is because a paraphrase is an indirect 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.
If HAL says: “All systems are functional,” then:
- Incorrect: HAL said that “Everything was going extremely well.”
- Correct: HAL said that everything was going extremely well.
However, another convention when quoting text in the body of a paragraph or sentence—for example, in an essay—is to recognize double quotation marks as marking an exact quotation, and single quotation marks as marking a paraphrased quotation or a quotation where grammar, pronouns, or plurality have been changed in order to fit the sentence containing the quotation (see reported speech).
Another common use of quotation marks is to indicate or call attention to ironic or mis-used words:
- He shared his "wisdom" with me.
- The lunch lady plopped a glob of "food" onto my tray.
- She attempted to use her "strength" to lift the weight.
Quotes indicating irony, or other special use, are sometimes called scare quotes. They are sometimes gestured in oral speech using air quotes.
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.
- indicate special terminology that should be identified for accuracy’s sake as someone else’s terminology, for example if 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 (CMS), 15th edition acknowledges this type of use but cautions against overuse in section 7.58, “Quotation marks are often used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard, ironic, or other special sense […] They 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.”
Using either quotation marks or italics can emphasize that an instance of a word refers to the word itself, rather than its associated concept.
- Cheese is derived from milk.
- "Cheese" is derived from a word in Old English.
- Cheese has calcium, protein, and phosphorus.
- Cheese has three es in the spelling.
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 form, 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.
Books about language often use italics for the word itself and single quotation marks for a gloss:
- The French word canif ‘pocketknife’ is borrowed from Old English cnif ‘knife’.
In common usage, there may be a distinction between the single and double quotation marks in this context; often, single quotation marks are used to embrace single characters, while double quotation marks enclose whole words or phrases:
- The letter ‘o’ is one of the most used in the English language.
- The term "cremation" refers to the burning of the body after death.
- “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” is a well-known quote from the 1939 film Gone With the Wind.
The two may, however, in these cases, be to some degree interchangeable.
Quotation marks, rather than italics, are generally used for the titles of shorter works. Whether these are single or double is again a matter of style; 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 (such as poems or short stories inside the collection) 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.
Emphasis (incorrect usage)
Quotes are sometimes used incorrectly 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. And again, Cashiers’ desks open until noon for your “convenience” might 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. While these two styles are most commonly referred to as “American” and “British” (and some style sheets provide no other name), some American writers and organizations use the “British” style and vice versa. Both systems have the same rules regarding question marks, exclamation points, colons and semicolons. They differ on the treatment of periods and commas.
In the U.S., the standard style is called American style, typesetters’ rules, printers’ rules, typographical usage, or traditional punctuation, whereby commas and periods are almost always placed inside closing quotation marks. This style of punctuation is common in the U.S., Canada, and in the U.K. in fiction and journalism.
The other standard style–called British style or logical punctuation–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.
When dealing with words-as-words, short-form works and sentence fragments, the styles differ:
- “Carefree,” in general, means “free from care or anxiety.” (American practice)
- “Carefree”, in general, means “free from care or anxiety”. (British practice)
When dealing with direct speech, American rules place periods and commas inside the quotation marks all the time, but the alternative usage varies. In fiction, both styles are the same. In non-fiction, 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. According to the Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders, periods and commas that are part of the person’s speech are permitted inside the quotation marks regardless.
- “Today,” said Cinderella, “I feel free from care and anxiety.” (both major styles)
- “Today”, said former Prime Minister Tony Blair, “I feel free from care and anxiety.” (British non-fiction only)
- “I feel happy,” said Bjork, “carefree, and well.” (both major styles)
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:
- To use a long dash on Wikipedia, type in "
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 definitions of the word “gender”: colloquial, sociological, and linguistic.
In the first two sentences above, only one punctuation mark is used at the end of each. Regardless of its placement, only one end mark (?, !, or .) can end a sentence in American English. Only the period, however, cannot end a quoted sentence when it does not also end the enclosing sentence, except for literal text:
- “Hello, world,” she said.
- “Hello, world!” she exclaimed.
- “Is there anybody out there?” she asked into the void.
- “Goodnight, stars. Goodnight, moon,” she whispered.
- The name of the film was, he replied, “E.T.,” which many already knew.
References: 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.
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 a 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 requires that a non-breaking space be inserted.
- So Dave actually said, “He said, ‘Good morning’ ”?
- Yes, he did say, “He said, ‘Good morning.’ ”
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 character sets, including ASCII and Latin-1, but are present in Unicode, as characters U+2032 (dec. 8242) and U+2033 (dec. 8243), and as HTML entities ′ and ″. Double quotation marks 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. 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” quote 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 such example being YouTube). One can skirt these limitations, however, by using the HTML character codes or entities.
|Macintosh key combinations||Windows key combinations||Linux (X) keys||HTML entity||HTML decimal|
|Single opening||‘||Option + ]||Alt + 0145 (on number pad)||Compose < ' or Alt Gr + Shift + V||
|Single closing (& apostrophe)||’||Option + Shift + ]||Alt + 0146 (on number pad)||Compose > ' or Alt Gr + Shift + B||
|Double opening||“||Option + [||Alt + 0147 (on number pad)||Compose < " or Alt Gr + V||
|Double closing||”||Option + Shift + [||Alt + 0148 (on number pad)||Compose > " or Alt Gr + B||
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 user being aware of it). This is known as the "smart quotes" feature. Quotation marks that are not automatically altered by computer programs are known as "dumb quotes". Some implementations incorrectly produce an opening single quotation mark in places where an apostrophe is required, for example, in abbreviated years like ’08 for 2008.
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 round). 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.
Images for kids
Guillemets by the Imprimerie nationale in Bulletin de l’Agence générale des colonies, № 302, Mai 1934, showing the comma-shaped symbols sitting on the baseline.
Quotation mark Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.