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23.7: Quotation Marks

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    There are three typical ways quotation marks are used. The first is pretty self-explanatory: you use quotation marks when you’re making a direct quote.

    • He said “I’ll never forget you.” It was the best moment of my life.
    • Yogi Berra famously said, “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

    If you’re just writing an approximation of something a person said, you would not use quotation marks:

    • She told me about Pizza the three-toed sloth yesterday.
    • He said that he would be late today.

    The second is when you’re calling attention to a word. For example:

    • I can never say “Worcestershire” correctly.
    • How do you spell “definitely”?


    It is this course’s preference to use italics in these instances:

    • I can never say Worcestershire correctly.
    • How do you spell definitely?

    However, using quotes is also an accepted practice.

    The last use is scare quotes. This is the most misused type of quotation marks. People often think that quotation marks mean emphasis.

    • Buy some “fresh” chicken today!
    • We’ll give it our “best” effort.
    • Employees “must” wash their hands before returning to work.

    However, when used this way, the quotation marks insert a silent “so-called” into the sentence, which is often the opposite of the intended meaning.

    Where do Quotation Marks Go?

    Despite what you may see practiced—especially in advertising, on television, and even in business letters—the fact is that the period and comma go inside the quotation marks all of the time. Confusion arises because the British system is different, and the American system may automatically look wrong to you, but it is simply one of the frequently broken rules of written English in America: The period and comma always go inside the quotation marks.

    • Correct: The people of the pine barrens are often called “pineys.”
    • Incorrect: The people of the pine barrens are often called “pineys”.

    However, the semicolon, colon, dash, question mark, and exclamation point fall outside of the quotation marks (unless, of course, the quoted material has internal punctuation of its own).

    • This measurement is commonly known as “dip angle”; dip angle is the angle formed between a normal plane and a vertical.
    • Built only 50 years ago, Shakhtinsk—“minetown”—is already seedy.
    • When she was asked the question “Are rainbows possible in winter?” she answered by examining whether raindrops freeze at temperatures below 0 °C. (Quoted material has its own punctuation.)
    • Did he really say “Dogs are the devil’s henchmen”? (The quote is a statement, but the full sentence is a question.)

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Has the following passage been punctuated correctly? Type any corrections in the text frame below:

    Gabrielly’s brother Marcelo knew a lot of “fun facts” that he liked to share whenever they popped into his mind. Yesterday he asked Gabrielly, “Did you know that there’s a dinosaur-themed park in Poland called JuraPark Bałtów”?

    Last week he told her about “Rusik, the first Russian police sniffer cat, who helped search for illegal cargoes of fish and caviar”.


    There are three sets of quotation marks. The first, around fun facts, may or may not be appropriate. If the intent is to emphasize the facts, then the quotes are incorrect. However, if you want to indicate that the facts aren’t actually fun (and possibly annoying), the quotes are appropriate.

    The second set starts correctly: a comma is used to introduce a direct quote, which has an opening quotation mark. However, the question mark at the end should be inside the quotation marks, since the quote is a question.

    Yesterday he asked Gabrielly, “Did you know that there’s a dinosaur-themed park in Poland called JuraPark Bałtów?”

    The third set surrounds an approximation of what Marcelo said. Thus, no quotation marks should be used.

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