Double or single quotation marks? Even though each has a purpose, all too often the two are confused. And abusing quotation marks? It’s one of the quickest ways to look like a grammar and writing amateur.
Did you see the ‘Remedial Chaos Theory’ episode of Community? It was hilarious!
The ‘experienced’ player had only learned the game the previous year.
When you think about ‘education,’ it’s important to remember what’s truly important.
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“My favorite part of King’s speech is “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood,”,” Bob said.
What do all of these examples have in common? They all use quotation marks. And they all use them incorrectly!
In this article, we’ll go through some guidelines about quotation marks. Along the way, we’ll correct each of the examples given above.
Let’s start with double quotation marks.
–Double Quotation Marks–
Double Quotation Marks in Dialogue
The most common use of quotation marks is to set off dialogue or to show that you are quoting someone.
Example Double Quotation Marks in Dialogue
“Thanks for calling me back,” Anne said.
Pretty straightforward. But there are other uses for double quotation marks.
Double Quotation Marks for a Title
You can also use double quotation marks to set off the title of a short work, such as an episode of TV, a magazine article, etc. (Longer works tend to be italicized and not set off with quotation marks.)
Example Double Quotation Marks for a Title
Did you see the “Remedial Chaos Theory” episode of Community? It was hilarious! (Note that the title of the TV series is in italics.)
Double Quotation Marks to Visually Set off a Word
You can also use double quotation marks to visually set off a word. This is most often done for two reasons: when the author wants to show that he/she doesn’t necessarily believe the word in quotation marks and when the author wants to refer to the word itself, or the concept of the word, rather than the actual meaning.
Example Double Quotation Marks to Visually Set off a Word
The “experienced” player had only learned the game the previous year.
How Not to Use Double Quotation Marks
One way not to use double quotation marks? To simply emphasize a word. Instead, use bold, underline or italics.
Example How Not to Use Double Quotation Marks
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No quotation marks needed.
–Single Quotation Marks–
So what about single quotation marks? When exactly do you use those?
Not as often as you’d think!
In general, the only reason to use single quotation marks is if you have a title or quote within a quotation (or dialogue).
Example Single Quotation Marks
“My favorite part of King’s speech is ‘I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood,’,” Bob said.
Because Bob is quoting the speech directly, the quote must be set off in quotation marks. But since this is dialogue, and therefore already set off in quotation marks, we must use single quotation marks for the speech.
Other Reasons to Use Single Quotation Marks
The only other reason to use single quotes is if you are in a field like linguistics, theology, philosophy, etc. In those fields, they do use single quotation marks to set off key terms. If you are not in those fields, you should not use single quotes to set off terms. Use double quotes.
Note: If you are British, or writing for a British audience, the use of single versus double quotation marks is reversed. Use single marks for quotes and titles and double marks for titles or quotes with quotation marks.
Now go ahead and quote away!
Rachel is a full-on, hardcore grammar freak. Her favorite punctuation marks are parentheses, em dashes, and ellipses. She still loves adverbs but is trying to wean herself off of them. And she truly believes that it’s okay to split an infinitive. In addition to her grammar obsession, Rachel writes light contemporary romance – occasionally with a paranormal twist – and is published in short fiction. Rachel also works as a freelance proofreader and copy editor. Learn more at www.rachelmichaels.com.