4 Punctuation

4.14 Quotation marks

Quotation marks, also called inverted commas, are of two types: single (‘’) and double (“ ”). Upright quotation marks (' or ") are also sometimes used. People writing for the Internet should note that single quotation marks are regarded as easier to read on a screen than double ones. British practice is normally to enclose quoted matter between single quotation marks, and to use double quotation marks for a quotation within a quotation:

  • ‘Have you any idea’, he said, ‘what “red mercury” is?’

The order is often reversed in newspapers, and uniformly in US practice:

  • “Have you any idea,” he said, “what ‘red mercury’ is?”

If another quotation is nested within the second quotation, revert to the original mark, either single–double–single or double–single–double.

Displayed quotations of poetry and prose take no quotation marks. In reporting extended passages of speech, use an opening quotation mark at the beginning of each new paragraph, but a closing one only at the end of the last. For more on quotations see Chapter 9, which also covers direct speech and the relative placing of quotation marks with other punctuation.

Use quotation marks and roman (not italic) type for titles of short poems, short stories, and songs (see Chapter 8):

  • ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head’

  • ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’

Use quotation marks for titles of chapters in books, articles in periodicals, and the like:

  • Mr Brock read a paper entitled ‘Description in Poetry’

But omit quotation marks when the subject of the paper is paraphrased:

  • Mr Brock read a paper on description in poetry

  • Mr Brock read a paper on ‘Description in Poetry’

Quotation marks may be used to enclose an unfamiliar or newly coined word or phrase, or one to be used in a technical sense:

  • ‘hermeneutics’ is the usual term for such interpretation

  • the birth or ‘calving’ of an iceberg

  • the weird and wonderful world of fan fiction, or ‘fanfic’

They are often used as a way of distancing oneself from a view or claim, or of apologizing for a colloquial or vulgar expression:

  • Authorities claim to have organized ‘voluntary’ transfers of population

  • I must resort to a ‘seat of the pants’ approach

  • Kelvin and Danny are ‘dead chuffed’ with its success

Such quotation marks should be used only at the first occurrence of the word or phrase in a work. Note that quotation marks should not be used to emphasize material.

Quotation marks are not used around the names of houses or public buildings:


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