Quotation Marks (Inverted Commas)

quotation marks
" Conversation is the stuff of life," says Richard Lederer, "and quotation marks add life to writing. They allow writers to transmit conversation to readers over a long distance" ( Comma Sense, 2005). (Getty Images)

Quotation marks are punctuation marks (curly or "straight") used primarily to identify the beginning and end of a passage attributed to another and repeated word for word. In British English, quotation marks are often called inverted commas. Also known as quote marks, quotes, and speech marks.

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

In all varieties of English, semicolons and colons go outside the quotation marks.

Most American style guides recommend using single marks to enclose a quotation that appears within another quotation:

"Salutations are greetings," said the voice. "When I say 'salutations,' it's just my fancy way of saying hello or good morning."
(E.B. White, Charlotte's Web, 1952)

Note that the British customarily reverse this order: first using single quotation marks--or 'inverted commas'--and then turning to double quotation marks to enclose quotations within quotations.

See Examples and Observations below.


From the Latin, "how many"

Examples and Observations

  • "Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask, 'Where have I gone wrong?'
    Then a voice says to me, 'This is going to take more than one night.'"
    (Charles M. Schulz, Charlie Brown in "Peanuts")
  • British Boy Scout commissioner Roland Philipps suggested that a youngster's daily good turn might "consist in moving a piece of banana peel from the pavement."
  • Double Marks and Single Marks
    "Double marks are traditionally associated with American printing practice (as in the Chicago style) and single marks with British practice (as in the Oxford and Cambridge styles), but there is much variation in practice; double marks are more often found in British texts before the 1950s, and are usual in handwriting."
    (Robert E. Allen, "Quotation Marks." The Oxford Companion to the English Language, 1992)
  • Quotation Marks With Slang
    "If you use a colloquialism or a slang word or phrase, simply use it; do not draw attention to it by enclosing it in quotation marks."
    (William Strunk and E.B. White, The Elements of Style)
  • Using Ellipsis Points . . .
    "[If] omitting material from the original sentence or sentences leaves a quotation that appears to be a sentence or a series of sentences, you must use ellipsis points, or three spaced periods, to indicate that your quotation does not completely reproduce the original."
    (MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 2009)
  • Phantom Words
    "However plausible they may seem, don't ascribe words to speakers that they didn't exactly say. For instance, Sen. Vladimir Blowhard says, 'Most of us politicians have a serious problem with that issue.' The quotation has him say, 'WE have a serious problem with that issue.' The fact is that the speaker never said 'we.' Rephrasing is easy: Blowhard said that politicians like himself 'had a serious problem with that issue.'"
    (Rene J. Cappon, The Associated Press Guide to Punctuation. Basic Books, 2003)
  • The Evolution of Quotation Marks
    - "At the beginning of the 18th century, English printers transformed the comma marks... into a new punctuation symbol which we may properly call 'quotation marks.'... Quotation marks were gradually accepted during the first half of the 18th century, and were used with increasing frequency to indicate quotations in English books in the second half of the century, although there are important exceptions..."
    (The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Victorian Era. Broadview Press, 2006)


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