Use Quotation Marks Correctly

Since people write their thoughts and opinions publicly on a variety of forums, quotation marks are used in all kinds of random ways. However, there are clear, simple rules on how to use double and single quotes correctly. If you want to be viewed as a professional, here’s how to write them.

(Note: this is for American English.)

DOUBLE QUOTATION MARKS

Use double quotes when someone is speaking or when you are quoting someone.

  • Right: “I’m craving pizza right now,” she said. “How about you?”
    (Someone is speaking, so use double quotes around everything they say.)
  • Right: My favorite C. S. Lewis quote is, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”
    (Put double quotes around anything that is quoted from someone else’s speech or writing.)
  • Wrong: Cassie said she craved “pizza” for breakfast.
    (This is just a description, not a direct quote.)
    Right: Cassie said she craved pizza for breakfast.
  • Wrong: When I was traveling in Piedmont, Italy, I ate “Bônet” for dessert every single day.
    (Foreign words are not put in quotes—they are italicized.)
    Right: When I was traveling in Piedmont, Italy, I ate Bônet for dessert every single day.
  • Wrong: My toddler screams “No!” to everything.
    (Do not use quotes or a capital letter—we all understand the word no. Also, using the description “screams” eliminates the need for an exclamation point.)
    Right: My toddler screams no to everything.
    (If you feel like you need to stress the word, use italics.)
    Right: My toddler screams no to everything.
  • Wrong: Why do people who “feel important” have to “look down on” everyone else?
    (No one is speaking or quoting something—take out all quotation marks.)
    Right: Why do people who feel important have to look down on everyone else?


SINGLE QUOTATION MARKS

Use single quotes only inside double quotes. I see single quotes used all over the place, but they are all incorrect except for this one instance.

  • Wrong: I thought you ‘loved’ my jelly-and-mayo sandwich.
    Right: I thought you loved my jelly-and-mayo sandwich.
  • Wrong: Which Shakespeare play contains the line ‘To be or not to be’?
    Right: Which Shakespeare play contains the line “To be or not to be”?
  • Wrong: He told me, ‘I’ll be by tomorrow at one’ but never showed up.
    Right: He told me, “I’ll be by tomorrow at one” but never showed up.
    Better: He told me he’d be by tomorrow at one but never showed up.
  • Wrong: The final vote was two ‘for’ and eight ‘against’.
    Right: The final vote was two for and eight against.
    Better: The final vote was two in favor and eight opposed.
  • Right: My dad always told me, “Always remember that saying, ‘He who’s convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.’ You can’t change someone whose mind is set.”
    (This is the only time you enclose words in single quotes—when the quoted phrase is already inside double quotes.)
  • Right: Maria said, “Ryan and I were planning a vacation next month, then he texted me and said, ‘I can’t go. Sorry, babe.’ That’s it! No explanation. I called, but he didn’t answer, so I left him a long message and ended it with ‘I don’t care. I’m going with someone else!’ ” She started sobbing. “Can you go with me? Please?”
    (It’s convoluted to write a conversation this way, but it’s accurate. We have Maria speaking, and everything she says is enclosed in double quotes—both before she sobs and after. When she quotes Ryan as well as her response to Ryan, those phrases are in single quotes. We can’t use double quotes all the time or readers won’t be able to track who says what. So start with double quotes, then use single quotes inside double quotes.)

And, my writer friends, that’s how you use double and single quotes correctly. You can quote me on it! 😉


Savvy Writer Tip:

There are clear rules for accurately using double quotes and single quotes in writing. Make sure you know them and don’t mimic the incorrect usage you see. Savvy writers are known by their accurate use of quotation marks! 🙂

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