or inverted commas
(informally referred to as quotes
and speech marks
) are punctuation
marks used in pairs to set off speech, a quotation, a phrase or a word. The pair consists of an opening quotation mark and a closing quotation mark, which may or may not be the same character.
They have a variety of forms in different languages and in different media:
For fragments of a human expression placed inside quotation marks, see Quotation.
In English usage, they come as pairs in two forms: as single quotation marks (‘. . .’), and as double quotation marks (“. . .”).
Quotations and speech
Single or double quotation marks denote either speech or a quotation. Neither style – single or double – is an absolute rule, though double quotation marks are preferred in the United States, and both single and double quotation marks are used in the United Kingdom. A publisher’s or even an author’s style may take precedence over national general preferences.
The important rule is that the style of opening and closing quotation marks must be matched:
- ‘Good morning, Dave,’ greeted HAL.
- “Good morning, Dave,” greeted HAL.
For speech within speech, the other is used as inner quotation marks:
- ‘HAL said, “Good morning, Dave,” ’ recalled Frank.
- “HAL said, ‘Good morning, Dave,’ ” recalled Frank.
Omitting quotation marks is generally not recommended.
Sometimes, quotations are nested in more levels than inner and outer quotation. Nesting levels up to five can be found in 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 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 the first and each subsequent paragraph opening quotation marks, using closing quotation marks only for the final paragraph of the quotation. The Spanish convention, though similar, 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 generally considered incorrect to use quotation marks for paraphrased speech where they may give the impression that the paraphrasing represents the actual words used.
If HAL says: “All systems are functional.”, then:
- Wrong: HAL said that “Everything was going extremely well.”
- Right: HAL said that everything was going extremely well.
- Right: HAL said, “All systems are functional.”
However, another convention when quoting text in the body of a paragraph or sentence, for example in philosophical essays, 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 (this is the same as reported speech).
Another important use of quotation marks is to indicate or call attention to ironic
or apologetic words. Ironic quotation marks can also be called scare
, sneer, shock, or distance quotes. Ironic quotation marks are sometimes gestured in oral speech using air quotes
- My brother claimed he was "too busy" to help me.
Quotation marks indicating ironic use of a term should be used with care. Without the intonational cues of speech, they can obscure the writer’s intended meaning. They can also be confused easily with direct quotations, so some style guides specify single quotation marks for this usage, and double quotation marks for verbatim speech.
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.
- In the fifteenth century, we “knew” that the Sun’s revolution divided day from night.
- Woody Allen joked, “I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.”
In addition to conveying a neutral attitude and to call attention to a neologism
or a slang
or special terminology (also known as jargon
), quoting can also indicate words or phrases that are descriptive
but unusual, colloquial, folksy, startling, humorous, or metaphoric:
Dawkins's concept of the meme could be described as an "evolving idea."
People use quotation marks in this way to:
- indicate descriptive but unusual, colloquial, folksy words or phrases
- indicate descriptive but startling, humorous, or metaphoric words or phrases
- 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 pre-supposes 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."
Either quotation marks or italic type 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 e’s.
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”.
Books about language often use italics for the word itself and single quotation marks for its translation:
- The French word canif ‘pocketknife’ is borrowed from Old English cnif ‘knife’.
Titles of artistic works
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:
- 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”
Nicknames and false titles
Quotation marks offset a nickname
embedded in an actual name, or a false or ironic title embedded in an actual title; for example, Nat “King” Cole
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, Teller lines open until noon for your “convenience”
might mean that the convenience was for the bank employees, not the customers.
The traditional convention in American English
is for commas and periods to be included inside the quotation marks, regardless of whether they are part of the quoted sentence, while the British style places them in or outside of the quotation marks according to whether or not the punctuation is part of the quoted phrase. The American rule is derived from typesetting while the British rule is grammatical (see below for more explanation). Although the terms American style and British style are used, it is not as clear cut as that because at least one major British newspaper prefers typesetters' quotation
(punctuation inside) and BBC News
uses both styles, while scientific and technical publications, even in the U.S., almost universally use logical quotation
(punctuation outside unless part of the source material), due to its precision.
As with many such differences, the American rule follows an older British standard. Before the advent of mechanical type, the order of quotation marks with periods and commas was not given much consideration. The printing press required that the easily damaged smallest pieces of type for the comma and period be protected behind the more robust quotation marks. The typesetter’s rule was standard in early 19th century Britain, and the U.S. style still adheres to this older tradition both in everyday use and in non-technical formal writing. The grammatical rule was advocated by the extremely influential book The King’s English, by Fowler and Fowler.
- “Carefree” means “free from care or anxiety.” (American style)
- “Carefree” means “free from care or anxiety”. (British style)
- “Hello, world,” I said. (both styles)
Today, most areas of publication conform to one of the two standards above.
The American English rule is often not applied if the presence of the punctuation mark inside the quotation marks will lead to ambiguity, for example when describing keyboard input:
- In the File name text field, type “HelloWorldApp.java”, including the quotation marks.
- Enter the URL as “www.wikipedia.org”, the name as “Wikipedia”, and click “OK”.
- The URL starts with “www.wikipedia.”. This is followed by “org” or “com”.
In both styles, question marks and exclamation marks are placed inside or outside quoted material on the basis of logic, but colons and semicolons are always placed outside :
- Did he say, “Good morning, Dave”?
- No, he said, “Where are you, Dave?”
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:
- "Hello, world," she said.
- "Hello, world!" she exclaimed.
- "Is there anybody out there?" she asked into the void.
- "Goodnight stars. Goodnight moon," she whispered.
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.’ ”
Non-language related usage
Straight quotation marks (or italicized straight quotation marks) are often used to approximate the prime
and double prime (e.g., when signifying feet
, or arcminutes
). 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 ′
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 many 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'.
Quotations spanning several paragraphs
For a quotation consisting of several paragraphs, especially in older texts, the convention is to start each separate paragraph of the quoted text with an opening quotation mark, but to use a closing quotation mark only at the end of the last paragraph, 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.”
Typing quotation marks on a computer
Although they are so common in writing, quotation marks and apostrophes are surprisingly difficult to type on a computer keyboard, especially with a Windows keyboard. The majority of people have no idea how to type them, instead using typewriter quotation marks and apostrophes (" and '). Some Web sites do not even allow real quotation marks or apostrophes to be used in message board posts (one such example being YouTube
How to type quotation marks and apostrophes on a computer
||Hold Alt while typing 0145 on the number pad |
|Single closing (apostrophe)
||Hold Alt while typing 0146 on the number pad |
||Hold Alt while typing 0147 on the number pad |
||Hold Alt while typing 0148 on the number pad |
To make these characters easier to enter, publishing
software often converts typewriter apostrophes to typographic apostrophes during text entry (with or without the user being aware of it). A similar facility may be offered on web servers after submitting text in a form field, e.g. on weblogs or free encyclopedias. This is known as the smart quotes
feature; apostrophes and quotation marks that are not automatically altered by computer programs are known as dumb quotes
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
, 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.