Quotation Marks

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The exact rules for quotation marks vary greatly from language to language and even from country to country within the English-speaking world. In North American usage, you should place double quotation marks (") before and after directly quoted material and words of dialogue:

  • One critic ended his glowing review with this superlative: "It is simply the best film ever made about potato farming."
  • Joe replied, "This is the last cookie."

Quotation marks also set off certain titles, usually those of minor or short works—essays, short stories, short poems, songs, articles in periodicals, etc. For titles of longer works and separate publications, you should use italics (or underline, if italics are not available). Use italics for titles of books, magazines, periodicals, newspapers, films, plays, long poems, long musical works, and television and radio programs. For example:

  • Once when I was sick, my father read me a story called "The Happy Flower," which was later made into a movie entitled Flower Child, starring Tiny Tim.

Also use quotation marks to set off words specifically referred to as terms, though some publishers prefer italics:

  • I know you like the word "unique," but do you have to use it ten times in one memorandum?
  • "Well" is sometimes a noun, sometimes an adverb, sometimes an adjective and sometimes a verb.

Quotations Marks with Other Punctuation

One question that frequently arises with quotation marks is where to place other punctuation marks in relation to them. Again, these rules vary from region to region, but North American usage is quite simple:

  1. Commas and periods always go inside the quotation marks:
    • I know you are fond of the story "Children of the Corn," but is it an appropriate subject for your essay?
    • "At last," said the old woman, "I can say I am truly happy."
  2. Semicolons and colons always go outside the quotation marks:
    • She never liked the poem "Dover Beach"; in fact, it was her least favourite piece of Victorian literature.
    • He clearly states his opinion in the article "Of Human Bondage": he believes that television has enslaved and diminished an entire generation.
  3. Question marks, exclamation marks and dashes go inside quotation marks when they are part of the quotation, and outside when they are not:
    • Where is your copy of "The Raven"?
    • "How cold is it outside?" Bridget asked.

Note that in North American usage, single quotation marks (’) are only used to set off quoted material (or a minor title) inside a quotation.

  • "I think she said ’I will try,’ not ’I won’t try,’" explained Sandy.

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