Whether you want to liven up your book’s scenes with dialogue or simply give credit where it’s due in your research paper, you’ll need to use quotation marks to attribute words to a speaker.
There are some specific rules you’ll need to follow, however, especially once you throw in other punctuations or mix quotes within quotes.
When to Use Quotation Marks
Quotation marks should be used to directly quote the words of someone else, with titles of short works, and when indicating certain words as words.
Use quotation marks when you want to use the exact words of someone else in your writing.
“It’s getting late,” John said. “Maybe we should go home.”
Note that you could also relay what John said without a direct quotation:
John said it’s getting late and maybe we should go home.
Quotes like the example above are usually best suited for creative writing.
If you were sending a text to a friend, for instance, you would probably use the second method and simply relay what John said.
In fiction, however, quotations are used to create dialogue, and dialogue is an excellent way to let your characters speak for themselves and move the plot along more naturally.
In nonfiction, quotes are usually included to present information from other sources. However, if information is simply being paraphrased, quotation marks are not needed.
Run-in and Block Quotations
Run-in quotations are shorter quotes (like the examples above) that take the same format as the regular text that surrounds it.
Block quotes, on the other hand, are longer quotes that are separated from their surrounding text. Although they are direct quotes, direct quotes do not need quotation marks because they are usually separated from the text (in a new paragraph with indented margins, a different font style, or by some other distinction).
Refer to your designated style guide for specific rules regarding how long a quote should be before it becomes a block quote (although five or more lines is generally a good rule).
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches often utilized parallel structure to emphasize key points. One example can be found in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
Titles of Short Works
Most style guides dictate that titles of books, films, magazines, newspapers, and other large works be italicized.
Titles of shorter works, such as poems, chapter titles, and short stories, are placed in quotation marks.
“Mad Girl’s Love Song” is a poem by Sylvia Plath.
He’s currently on Chapter 2, “How to Teach Your Dog to Roll Over.”
“A Sound of Thunder” is a short story by Ray Bradbury.
Words as Words
In some cases, such as when you’re defining a word, you need to indicate which word you’re referring to. Use quotation marks to make this clear.
“SEO” is short for search engine optimization.
The word “tranquil” is synonymous with “calm.”
Quotation Mark Rules
There are several key grammatical rules to keep in mind when using quotation marks in your writing.
Quotations and Capitalization
If you’re quoting a complete sentence, the quotation should start with a capital letter (even if your sentence doesn’t begin with the quote).
Mark explained, “There aren’t enough rooms available for everyone at the house.”
If you are only quoting a particular phrase or selection of words—not a complete sentence—then your quotation should not start with capital letters.
Mark explained that there “weren’t enough rooms” at the house.
If you are splitting a complete sentence in half to insert a parenthetical, then the second half of the quote should not be capitalized.
“The problem,” Mark explained, “is that there aren’t enough rooms for everyone.”
Quotations and Other Punctuations
When quotations contain complete sentences, there is often confusion about where the quotation marks should be placed.
Commas and periods should always go inside quotation marks. Other ending punctuations, like question marks, are placed inside the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted material.
“Is it really necessary?” Sandy asked.
In the example above, Sandy is asking a question, so the question mark is placed inside the quotation marks.
Did Tommy tell you that these things are “really necessary”?
Here, an unnamed writer is asking if Tommy used the precise words “really necessary”; she is asking a question, but she is only quoting two words.
Tina loved everything about the “Eternal City”: its monuments, its river, and especially its food.
The “Eternal City” is in quotation marks because it is a name commonly used to describe Rome. The colon is placed outside, because it is not part of the name.
Quotes Within Quotes
If you want to quote something that already contains a quote, do not use double quotation marks.
“”The Road Not Taken” is my favorite poem,” Michelle said.
Instead, use single quotation marks (‘ ‘) for quotes within quotes.
“‘The Road Not Taken’ is my favorite poem,” Michelle said.
British vs. American Use
If you’re writing for a British audience, note that the British style calls for only single quotation marks (‘ ‘), except when there is a quote within a quote, in which case the double quotation marks are employed.
‘I love your dress, where did you get it?’ she asked the girl.
Additionally, the British also leave punctuation marks that are not part of the quote, such as commas, outside of the quotation marks.
‘It’s such a lovely day’, said Mary, ‘we should go for a walk.’
Check Your Style Guide
When in doubt, always refer to your style guide for the most up to date, accurate information for your specific kind of writing.
How to Use Quotation Marks
Quotes can liven up your fiction with dialogue or help you ace your next research paper with the expert words of others.
Make sure you know how to properly include quotation marks to make your writing more precise and effective.
Do you have any tricks for remembering how to use quotation marks? Share them in the comments below!