Definition and Examples of Direct Quotations

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

I have a dream quotation
This direct quotation from Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech is inscribed on the granite wall at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. Steve Cicero/Getty Images

A direct quotation is a report of the exact words of an author or speaker. Unlike an indirect quotation, a direct quotation is placed inside quotation marks. For example, Dr. King said, "I have a dream."

Direct quotations are commonly introduced by a signal phrase (also called a quotative frame), such as Dr. King said or Abigail Adams wrote.

A mixed quotation is an indirect quotation that includes a directly quoted expression (in many cases just a single word or brief phrase): King melodiously praised the "veterans of creative suffering," urging them to continue the struggle.

Examples and Observations

  • One particular bit [on the entry form] stood out from the rest, and I quote: “Please note the Bondi to Bronte ocean swim is a demanding event. Possible risks include drowning, being hit by a boat, shark attack, or bluebottle sting. Swimmers enter at their own risk and are responsible for their own physical condition." Sell it to me, why don't you.
    (Nigel Marsh, Fat, Forty, and Fired. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2007)
  • She quoted from a letter [E.B.] White wrote in 1981: "You might be amused to know that Strunk and White was adapted for a ballet production recently. I didn't get to the show, but I'm sure Will Strunk, had he been alive, would have lost no time in reaching the scene, to watch dancers move gracefully to his rules of grammar."
    (Jeremy Eichler, "Style Gets New Elements." The New York Times, October 19, 2005)
  • The black evangelist—whom Time magazine called "one of religion's most prodigious polymaths"—had been invited to be the speaker at a plenary session of the National Association of Black Journalists.
    (DeWayne Wickham, "A Religious Man--Not Right, Not Left." USA Today, August 8, 2005)
  • A Mixture of Direct and Indirect Quotations
    In the process of verbally dismantling the quantification of higher education, [Leon Botstein]  compared Ivy League universities to Gucci handbags and sneaked in concise dismissals of the College Board ("offensive, essentially"), the college essay ("an awful genre"), the S.A.T. ("a totally useless event"), and multiple-choice tests in general ("a grave error in the name of so-called objectivity").
    (Alice Gregory, "Pictures From an Institution." The New Yorker, September 29, 2014)
  • Quoting Word for Word
    "Never alter quotations even to correct minor grammatical errors or word usage. Casual minor tongue slips may be removed by using ellipses but even that should be done with extreme caution."
    ("Quotations in the News." The Associated Press Stylebook, 2008)
  • When Are Quotes Worth Quoting?
    1. When they put words before the reader for close analysis
    2. When they are crucial evidence
    3. When they say something so well it can't be said better.
    (Bill Stott, Write to the Point. Anchor Press, 1984)
  • Block Quotations
    A direct quotation that runs longer than four or five lines is customarily set off from the rest of a text by starting it on a new line and indenting it from the left margin. For example:
    When a block quotation is introduced by a word or phrase like  thus or  the following, that word or phrase should be followed by a colon. When a verb-of-saying introduces the block quotation, a comma is used. If it is introduced by a complete statement, a period should be used. When the introductory phrase forms a grammatically complete unit with the block quotations that follows it, no punctuation should be used.
    (Robert Hudson,  The Christian Writer's Manual of Style, 2004)
    As noted above, a direct quotation presented in this format is called a block quotation.
  • Direct Quotations in the Sciences and in the Humanities
    "In the first place, the general convention in the sciences and social sciences is that we use direct quotations as little as possible. Whenever possible, paraphrase your source. The exception is when the source is so eloquent or so peculiar that you really need to share the original language with your readers. (In the humanities, direct quoting is more important--certainly where you are talking about a literary source. There the original language IS the object of study very often.)"
    (Becky Reed Rosenberg, "Using Direct Quotation." Writing Center at the University of Washington, Bothell)