All About Quotation Marks

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Tie Sing Chie asks, “What’s the difference in terms of usage between the single quotation mark (‘) and the double quotation mark (“)?”

Quotation marks are used mainly to quote speech, sentences or words. Both the single and the double quotation marks serve that purpose; the difference in their usage comes from geographical preferences.

Traditionally, the double quotation mark was used in the United States while the single quotation mark was the preference inside the United Kingdom. Recently, though, some British pubblications started to adopt the American usage, which is becoming the de facto standard (see a quotation from The Guardian below).

Notice that when you use nested quotations you should invert the quotation marks, for example:

My mother said, “John told me, ‘I will not go there.'”

Quotation marks can also be used to express irony:

Uncle Joe was really “sad” about it.

The only point where there is a clear distinction between the American and the British styles is the usage of punctuation with the quotation marks. In American English commas and periods, even if not part of the quotation itself, need to be included inside the quotation marks.

Cultists are camping out in front of Apple stores; bloggers call it the “Jesus phone.” (NY Times)

In British English, on the other hand, the commas and periods will be included inside the quotation marks only if they were actually part of the quotation, otherwise they will go outside.

Margaret Jay ruefully reflected that all Blair’s considerable achievements would be “terribly undermined, and probably fatally undermined, by what I think of as the tragedy of going into Iraq”. (Guardian.co.uk)

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14 thoughts on “All About Quotation Marks”

  1. well, here we speak spanish but it suppose to be a difference

    when you quote something said you must use “” but when you are writting about someone or something with a nickname you must use ”

    like jason ‘giambino’ said “you’re doing it wrong!”

    sorry for my bad english anyways 😛

  2. I’ve also noticed that the British tend to use the single quotation mark in the “scare quote” (ironic or sarcastic) usage, while Americans use the full quotation mark.

  3. Here in Finland (I’m a native English speaker living and working here) the rule is ’99 only’ – i.e. only what we would call closing quotation marks in English, both at the start and end of a quote.

  4. Daniel, please forgive my seeming to be picky. I don’t mean to be. In fact I am wondering if I have been missing something all these years.

    In two instances above you used the word “commans” where I supposed “commas” the correct word. (Hope I used the right quotation marks in the right places there.) Those instances were “In American English commans and periods…,” and “In British English, on the other hand, the commans and periods….” (Please correct my punctuation where wrong.)

    Have I been missing it all these years or did someone fail to proofread this entry thoroughly?

    Please, never flag in your efforts. Yours is an important task. We all need reminding or taught, as the case may be, correct English punctuation so we can better convey what we intend. Without punctuation we cannot know what a writer means when he strings words together like “eats shoots and leaves” without punctuation. I, for one, certainly would not want to meet up with that critter who “eats shoots and leaves” until I knew the sense of those words.

    Your strong supporter

    (Silent note: Daniel, you are welcome to freely edit, strike, or not show my comments in your comment section. I would rather give you an apple than publicly bring up a possible correction in something you have written for good purpose, as it might well detract from your much needed efforts.)

  5. Lawrence, thanks for spotting such the typo on an old post, means we have people reading them 🙂 .

    They are fixed now.

  6. This is one case where the British rules make more sense than the rules for American English. Now, if only we can get them to spell “behavior” correctly (wink).

  7. first,I thank to you for providing the knowledge to the people.
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    Muhammad Aleem Ansari

  8. How do punctuations work in front of a quote? I’ve checked out dozens of websites on the matter, and there seems to be no consistency on this. In a sentence like:

    The boy said, “I like ice cream!”

    Should the comma be there before the quote, or should it be removed? I’ve seen “experts” insist on both keeping it and removing it. Does this differ between UK English and US English?

  9. Sorry Daniel. I must Beg to differ.

    Old British quotation marks have always been 66 99.
    That was how we were taught to remember them in school(50’s, 60’s & 70’s for me).
    It is only machines that turned opening quotation marks into a retrograde reflection of the closing marks.
    In long hand, I would still do 66 99.

    Good work. however.
    MPE(More Power to your Elbow).

    Vicenti O.

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