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How to Master the Use of Quotation Marks

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Do you struggle to remember when to use quotation marks? Are you unsure how they can be used correctly in written English? This article will outline the different types of uses for quotations and gives clear examples of how these are formed. This guide is ideal for beginners looking for an easy guide on understanding quotation marks as well as experienced writers who want a quick refresher on the correct usage.

How to Master the Use of Quotation Marks

What are Quotation Marks?

Quotation marks, often shortened as “quotes” or “inverted commas”, are used to attribute a quote or citation to an individual. Quotations marks indicate that the exact words taken from a source have been used, and they serve an important purpose in academic writing.

Different Types of Quotation Marks

Single Straight Quotation Marks

The single straight mark (‘) is the most commonly used type of quote mark, especially for shorter quotations. It’s used to emphasize words or phrases within a larger sentence, as well as for denoting titles of short stories or articles.

For longer quotations or quotes from foreign sources, particularly when quoting someone speaking in another language, double straight (“”) marks are often preferred. Double straight marks make it easier to tell when one person’s sentence ends and another begins.

Single Curved or Angle Quotation Marks

The single curved (`) or angle ( ) quotation mark is often used in place of single straight marks when the size of the font prohibits using single straight marks effectively. Single curved marks may also be required for certain subjects of study such as philosophy, medieval history, theology and anthropology, where long quotations would be difficult to format correctly without the use of this type of quote mark.

Double Straight Quotation Marks

The double curved (“) mark statement is sometimes used at the start and end of longer quotations — usually more than three lines — which appear within another sentence but have their own internal punctuation that needs marking off. This provides both legibility and body clarity while not interfering with syntax outside of the quote itself. The formulaic product “Brand Name” would also typically be surrounded by double curved quotation marks instead of apostrophes (‘). Finally, they should never be confused with dashes (-), which serve an entirely different purpose in grammar and syntax altogether!

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When to Use Quotation Marks

Quote What Other People Say

Using quotations is one of the most common uses for quotation marks. When you need to quote something exactly as it was said by someone else, you’ll want to put that information inside quotation marks. Generally, if both the speaker and phrase can be clearly identified, using quotation marks isn’t necessary—but when it’s not clear who is saying what, you should use quotes for both.

Highlight Special Terms or Phrases

When a term or phrase needs special emphasis, such as slang words or special industry jargon, quotation marks can help make sure readers understand the context of the phrase correctly. These phrases may also need to be set apart from the rest of a sentence because they introduce additional meaning corresponding closely to their definition; in that case, they need to be set off by single or double quotes before and after them.

Supply Titles of Books, TV Shows & Movies

Quotation marks are also essential when referencing titles on works such as books and movie titles. The only exception here is professional journal titles (which don’t need quotation marks), since no other resource typically has the same title name. For example: “The Lord of The Rings” is my favorite movie series.

Indicate Dictionaries Definitions

If you’re citing the definition of an unfamiliar term from a dictionary in your writing – even if it’s not critical to understanding your point – place it inside double quotes so readers know exactly which definition is being referenced: According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “misconstrue” means “to interpret incorrectly,”

Enclose Direct Speech Within Openings & Closings Stories and Essays

In stories and essays where you’re putting direct speech within dialogue tags (such as he said, she replied), it’s often helpful for readers to know exactly what words came out of your characters’ mouths—using opening and closing quotations makes this explicitly clear!

For example: He walked up behind her and said “Have I told you how much I love you?” You could stop reading right there and know exactly what he just said without any confusion at all!

How to Use Punctuation Outside the Quotation Marks

It may seem like a minor issue, but using punctuation correctly outside of quotation marks is essential for making sure your writing is clear and grammatically correct. Here are some tips and best practices for using punctuation outside of quotation marks:

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1. Use colons, semicolons, and parentheses with no spaces between them.

For example: “The store has everything we need: groceries, supplies (including toilet paper!), and other miscellaneous items.”

2. Put a comma before a closing parenthesis when you’re creating a list or joining two sentences together within parentheses.

For instance: “I need to buy food (apples, oranges, bananas), laundry detergent, toilet paper” or “We love traveling to new places (especially in Europe), but we always come home—we just can’t stay away too long!”

3. Make sure that any question mark or exclamation point belongs to the sentence before the quote rather than the one inside the quote—even if the quoted sentence ends with those symbols.

For instance: “What did he say?” she asked or The stranger said, “Go away!”

4. If you end a sentence with quotation marks followed by a period at the end of the quoted material itself — as in direct quotes— include no other punctuation after the period outside of the quotation mark.

For instance: He said, “You must be careful when handling sharp objects.”

5. When punctuating long quotes that span multiple paragraphs or sections, make sure that only the last paragraph or section contains both an end quotation mark and any additional terminal punctuation such as periods or exclamation points; all other internal quotations should contain only an initial quotation mark as they are not true ending phrases just yet.

Here is an example:

  • She wrote in her diary: “I’m so excited to finally have made this decision! I’ve been wanting to do this for years now and feel so relieved that I finally have taken this big step forward into my own life’s journey…This is going to be awesome!”

Special Cases for Using Quotation Marks

Titles of Works

Quotation marks are used to enclose the titles of shorter works such as articles, short stories, poems, songs, and TV episodes. Italicization can also be used instead of quotation marks for some types of works.


  • “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe is a famous poem.
  • The TV show “Friends” has a large following.

Scare Quotes

Quotation marks can be used to indicate that a word or phrase is being used in an ironic or non-literal sense, also known as “scare quotes”. This usage is common in academic writing to indicate skepticism or disagreement with the term being used.

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  • The “experts” at the conference had conflicting opinions on the topic.

Unfamiliar Words or Phrases

Quotation marks can also be used to indicate an unfamiliar or foreign word or phrase. This helps the reader to understand that the word is being used in a specific context or to show that it is not an English word.


  • The Italian word “ciao” means both hello and goodbye.

Direct Dialogue in Narrative

Quotation marks are used to indicate direct dialogue spoken by characters in a story or novel. This helps to distinguish the dialogue from the rest of the narrative.


  • “I can’t believe you did that,” said Jane.

Quotation Marks: FAQs

When Should I Use Quotation Marks?

Quotation Marks should be used to indicate that something is being directly quoted from a source. For example, if you were citing a book in an essay, you could write: “the author wrote ‘connecting with others is important for our overall wellbeing’”. Quotation marks can also be used around the titles of short works such as poems, songs, or articles.

What Is the Difference Between Single and Double Quotation Marks?

The type of quotation mark used depends on where in the world it is being written. In American English single quotation marks (‘ ‘) are used while double quotation marks (” “) are preferred in British English. However, this isn’t always consistent – so it’s best to check any style guide required by your institution before submitting your work.

How Do You Quote Within a Quote?

To quote within a quote simply replace the innermost set of single or double quotes with apostrophes (‘); for example: he said “My teacher told me ‘You can do this!'”. The same rule applies if you’re quoting within another quote within a quote – just keep adding more apostrophes until you reach your desired level of embedded quotes!

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