Friday, April 19, 2013

Punctuation 101: Quotation Marks

It's time for another installment of Punctuation 101 with your host Jill Williamson.

*raging applause*

Today we're going to talk about quotation marks. I've critiqued many a manuscript in which the author used quotation marks incorrectly. In fact, I worked on a manuscript this week, a manuscript that was written in 2005, in which the author (Jill Williamson) misused quotation marks all the time!

It's always fun to go back and see how much you've improved, right?

So, how was I misusing quotation marks? Here are the rules:

Double quotation marks vs. single quotation marks
Double quotation marks are used whenever you use a small quote (that's no longer than a sentence or two). For example:

My dreams were dying around me. I needed to get across town to do that audition, but my parents had grounded me and I had no car, anyway. Maybe I could sneak out my window. Walk. As Shakespeare said, To thine own self be true. I could deal with my parents later. Once I'd proved to everyone at school that I could win.

Single quotation marks are used whenever you use a quote within a quote. For example:

       “An Alpha victory all around,” Mr. S said. “But It is the fight alone that pleases us, not the victory. Blaise Pascal.”
       “And I would like to add,” Isaac said, “that A date without a goodnight kiss is like a doughnut without frosting. And that quote is all me.”

Where to put the period and comma and question mark and exclamation point
The closing quotation marks always come after a comma, period, question mark, or exclamation point. For example:

“Can you believe that Doug said, ‘It is the west, and Juliet is the moon,’ when he was supposed to say, ‘It is the east, and Juliet is the sun?’

When the question mark or exclamation point is part of the quote, they should go inside the end quotes. For example:

“But at least he said, ‘See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!’ the right way.”

But when the question mark or exclamation point is not part of the quote but part of the speaker's dialogue, it goes outside the quote. For example:

“Still, I can't believe he said, ‘You can't act’!”

Where to put the colon or semicolon
Unlike periods and commas, when a colon or semicolon is part of the sentence, they are never put inside the quote. For example:

I love the song “Call Me Maybe”; my boyfriend hates it.

One more thing to note
When a double quotation mark and a single quotation mark are side by side, publishers sometimes put a little space between them. You can put a space if you'd like. Or you can not. Whatever you decide, be consistent. Here is what it looks like with a space. If you add spaces, make sure your quotes are pointing the correct direction.

“ ‘Genius not only diagnoses the situation but supplies the answers,’ so said Robert Graves,” Mr. S said.

This ends today's installment of Punctuation 101.


  1. Thankfully I already knew this and haven't been butchering any manuscripts ;) But thank you so much anyway, these are always a good refresher or enlightener!

  2. My quotation marks haven't been too bad... Thank you for this! So helpful! All this grammar information is going to be really important!

  3. Thanks for the great post, Mrs. Williamson!
    ~Sarah Faulkner

  4. You are so awesome to do this, Mrs. Williamson! I did know this quotation stuff already--I took an incredible English curriculum for about eight years that ingrained in me correct punctuation--but I've found other punctuation posts helpful :) Thanks!

  5. Thanks for this. I already knew the rules on quotations, though. My first paper in middle school, I wrote a story with the quotes all messed up because no one had taught them to me but I knew they should be there. My new teacher gave it back and told me to rewrite. I was so embarrassed that I went home, read an article on it, and never forgot it. Now I read books sometimes where they are messed up (mostly missing) and am correcting it in my head.

    1. And you'll be correcting it for the rest of your life! LOL

  6. Lol... "It is the west, and Juliet is the moon."
    Thanks for the post, Jill! I'm generally god with grammar and punctuation, as I read incessantly and I've always had good English teachers. This is really nice for a reminder, though.

  7. You need a space between single and double quotations? Thankfully noted.

    1. You don't "need" one. But some publishers will add one. And many authors like to put one there so that it's easier to see what's going on with the quotes.

  8. Thanks for this post! I already knew most of this, but it's a good reminder.

    Sort of randome, but in some of my Harry Potter books the quotations are marked with single quotation marks. I think they are the British versions, since I have some British and some American. Does it vary from country to country? Or was that just the way J.K. Rowling did it?

    1. Yes, rules can be different in different countries. I always recommend getting a copy of the style guide that is used in the country you want to be published in. For the USA, it's the Chicago Manual of Style.