Quotation Marks: How to Use Correctly
Place quotation marks (or inverted commas) around direct speech or a quotation. Quotes may also enclose a word or a phrase used ironically or in some special sense other than its usual meaning. Also use quotes to enclose words used as themselves instead of functionally in a sentence. Quotation marks set off titles of shorter works that appear within a larger work (e.g., the title of a chapter, article, or poem).
Direct speech and quoted text
Use quotation marks (also known as inverted commas or quotes) to enclose the exact words of another person’s speech or text. Quotation marks always appear in pairs: use an opening quotation mark to indicate the start of quoted text and a closing quotation mark to indicate its end.
- Maya said, “We need more time.”
- Dash replied, “You always have a choice.”
- Nemo predicts that the travel sector will grow by 20% this year. “We are already seeing overcrowded airports and full occupancy at hotels.”
- “Where were you?”
“At the park.”
- “Stop!” he cried.
- “I’m going to bake a cake,” said Lulu.
- “Are you still there?” she typed.
- She felt “a sudden, sharp pain” in her side.
- A witness described it as “the loudest bang” and said she thought “the world was ending.”
Prefer to use smart or curly quotes over straight quotes in formal writing. Smart quotes are directional: the opening and closing quotation marks look different from each other, curving inward towards the quotation instead of being identical and unidirectional (“. . . ” instead of ". . . "). The HTML character codes for smart quotes are
” with Unicode values
”. Microsoft Word has a checkbox you can select to make sure your documents display smart instead of straight quotes.
Commas surrounding a quotation
Use a comma after verbs like said, wrote, replied, and asked when they introduce a quote that is a complete sentence.
- Maya said, “I hope the train is on time.”
- Farley asked, “Do you sell pumpkins?”
- In a diary entry she wrote, “I now know why I’m here.”
- Lulu replied, “None of them has the answer.”
The explanatory text may appear after the quote, in which case the quote ends in a comma.
- “I hope the train is on time,” said Maya.
- “I now know why I’m here,” she wrote.
- “None of them has the answer,” replied Lulu.
If the quote ends in a question mark or exclamation point, don’t use a comma.
- “Where have all the bees gone?” he asked.
- “Run!” she cried.
- “And then he was gone!” she wrote.
- He asked, “Where are all the butterflies?”
If the explanatory text divides the quote into two parts, use commas both before and after.
- “None of them,” she said, “has the answer.”
Don’t use commas if the quote appears in the flow of the surrounding sentence and cannot stand by itself as a complete sentence.
- They call it “the song of the birds.”
- She said it sent “a shiver right through her toes” to see him on TV.
Running quotations are those that span paragraphs. If a quote starts in one paragraph and continues into another, place an opening quotation mark at the start of each paragraph but a closing quotation mark only at the end of the final one. This indicates to the reader that it’s the same speaker or writer across paragraphs, whose quotation ends only at the end of the final paragraph.
- Dash said: “Paragraph 1.
- She replied, “I don’t have any money.
“I never have any money. Any money I have, I spend it. You know that.”
Enclose a word or a phrase in quotation marks or “scare quotes” to indicate that it is being used ironically or in a nonstandard way (conveying a meaning other than the usual).
- She said she was going to “call the doctor.”
- That was some “meeting.” All he did was yell.
- She said she likes “classical” literature and then quoted Dan Brown.
Be careful not to overuse scare quotes. In particular, don’t enclose a word or a phrase in quotes simply to emphasize it (use formatting options like italic instead).
Don’t enclose standard idioms or slang in scare quotes.
- Incorrect: It’s time we gave him “a taste of his own medicine.”
“A taste of someone’s own medicine” is a standard idiom in English with a defined meaning.Correct: It’s time we gave him a taste of his own medicine.
Words as words
To refer to a word or a term as itself in a sentence rather than using it functionally, you can enclose it in quotation marks.
Italics are preferred over quotation marks in formal writing to refer to a term (a letter, word, or phrase) used as itself in a sentence. Use quotes instead if doing so helps improve readability or clarity, or in media where italics are not easily available (chat messages, posts on social media such as tweets).
- There’s no “I” in “team.” There’s no “J” either.
- Sartre speaks of en soi, or “being-in-itself,” which is the self-contained existence of objects.
Titles of works
Titles of larger works are generally italicized (such as names of books, movies, journals, and magazines), but titles of shorter works that appear within a larger work are enclosed in quotation marks. For example, the title of a short story that appears within an anthology is enclosed in quotes, while the title of the larger anthology itself is italicized. Similarly, the title of a song is enclosed in quotation marks, while the name of a music album is italicized. Titles of articles are enclosed in quotation marks, while names of periodicals are italicized.
- Her short story, “Cat Person,” was published in the New Yorker in 2017.
- “Fade into You” is probably their most famous song.
- Refer to Chapter 4, “Why Humans Talk.”
Titles of larger works (like names of books and movies) may also be enclosed in quotation marks in media where the use of italics is uncommon or impossible (e.g., chat messages, social media).
- Did you know “The Silence” is a remake of a 1963 film?
- One of his books that affected me deeply as a child is “Insomnia.”
Capitalize a quote that is a full sentence introduced by verbs like said and wrote or phrases like as she said or according to.
- As Dash once said, “There is no life without hope.”
- She wrote, “There is no life without hope. To live is to hope.”
- According to Dash, “There is no life without hope.”
- Minerva replied, “My childhood was a time full of hope.”
Don’t capitalize a quotation that appears within the flow of a larger sentence.
- She once said that “there is no life without hope.”
- She described her childhood as “a time full of hope.”
Don’t capitalize the second part of a quote that is interrupted by an explanatory phrase.
- “My childhood,” she said, “was a time full of hope.”
A quotation of one or more full sentences may also be introduced using a colon in formal text. It is then capitalized.
- Dash said: “There is no life without hope. To live is to hope.”
Quotes within quotes: Single and double quotes
Use single within double quotes to show quotes within quotes—to enclose in quotes a word or a phrase that appears within material already enclosed in quotation marks.
- Leonard’s latest article, “Bacteria and Fungi Can ‘Walk’ across the Surface of Our Teeth,” may make you want to rinse your mouth out every five minutes.
- She said, “The pronoun ‘me’ is generally used in place of ‘I’ after the ‘be’ verb in everyday usage.” “Oh, so you had the ‘cookie.’”
In British academic and creative writing, single quotes are the default, with double quotes reserved for quotes within quotes, as recommended by the New Oxford Style Manual (the style manual of the Oxford University Press). In British news copy however, double quotes are generally the default, as in American style.
Most U.S. style guides, like the Chicago Manual of Style, APA Publication Manual, AP Stylebook, and MLA Handbook, recommend enclosing quotations in double quotes, with single quotation marks reserved for quotes within quotes.
Periods and commas with quotation marks
In American writing, periods and commas always appear inside closing quotation marks.
- “My mother,” she said, “could get quite angry.”
- Use “I,” not “me,” as the subject of a sentence.
- We decimate our forests, pollute our waters, poison our air, and call it “progress.”
- I’m sure Poco, the “expert,” will be happy to advise us.
In British writing, a period or a comma precedes a closing quotation mark only if it part of the quoted text. If it is meant to punctuate the surrounding sentence instead, the comma appears after the closing quotation mark.
- ‘My mother’, she said, ‘could get quite angry.’
The commas punctuate the larger sentence and appear outside quotes. The period ends the quotation and therefore appears inside. Don’t use another period to end the sentence. Also note the use of single instead of double quotation marks in British style.
- Use ‘I’, not ‘me’, as the subject of a sentence.
- We cut down trees, pollute our waters, poison our air, and call it ‘progress’.
- I’m sure Poco, the ‘expert’, will be happy to advise us.
Other punctuation with quotation marks
Other punctuation marks, like question marks and exclamation points, precede a closing quotation mark if they belong to the quoted content. If they belong to the surrounding sentence, they appear after the closing quotation mark.
- She asked, “Where were you?”
- He cried, “It can’t be!”
- Did he just say, “I don’t want your money”?
- What do you mean by the word “truth”?
- She calls it “truth”!