Guidelines for Using Quotation Marks Correctly

American English Edition

Quotation marks, sometimes referred to as quotes or inverted commas, are punctuation marks most often used in pairs* to set off a quotation or a piece of dialogue. Here are five basic guidelines for using quotation marks correctly in American English.

Quotation marks

Use double quotation marks (" ") to enclose a direct quotation:

  • After telling an audience that young people today "think work is a four-letter word," Hillary Rodham Clinton said she apologized to her daughter.
  • "If a man does not keep pace with his companions," wrote Henry David Thoreau, "perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer."

Keep in mind that direct quotations repeat a speaker's exact words. In contrast, indirect quotations are summaries or paraphrases of someone else's words. Don't use quotation marks around indirect quotations:

Direct quotation
Elsa said, "I'm too tired to go to choir practice. I'm heading to bed."

Indirect quotation
Elsa said that she was skipping choir practice because she was tired.
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Use double quotation marks to enclose the titles of songs, short stories, essays, poems, and articles:

  • Softly, almost tenderly, Legree recited the lyrics to the song "She Made Toothpicks out of the Timber of My Heart."
  • After reading Poe's story "The Tell-Tale Heart," I couldn't sleep for a week.
  • The first draft of my favorite E. B. White essay, "Once More to the Lake," was a letter that White wrote to his brother a week after their mother's death.
  • When everyone finally stopped talking, Boomer recited the poem "Remember" by Christina Rossetti.

As a general rule, don't put quotation marks around the titles of books, newspapers, films, or magazines; instead, put those titles in italics

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Quotations Within Quotations

Use a pair of single quotation marks (' ') to enclose a title, direct quotation, or piece of dialogue that appears within another quotation:

Josie once said, "I don't read much poetry, but I love the sonnet 'Be-Bop-a-Lula.'"

Notice that two separate quotation marks appear at the end of the sentence: a single mark to close the title and a double mark to close the direct quotation.

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Commas and Periods Inside Quotation Marks

When a comma or a period appears at the end of a quotation, put it inside the quotation mark:

"Gluttony is an emotional disease," Peter DeVries once wrote, "a sign that something is eating us."

Note: In the U.K., periods and commas go inside the quotation marks only for a complete quoted sentence; otherwise, they go outside.

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Other Marks of Punctuation With Quotation Marks

When a semicolon or a colon appears at the end of a quotation, put it outside the quotation mark:

John Wayne never said, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do"; however, he did say, "A man ought to do what's right."

When a question mark or an exclamation point appears at the end of a quotation, put it inside the quotation mark if it belongs to the quotation:

Gus sang, "How Can I Miss You If You Don't Go Away?"

But if the question mark or exclamation point does not belong to the quotation but instead to the sentence as a whole, put it outside the quotation mark:

Did Jenny really sing the Spinal Tap song "Break Like the Wind"?