Quotation marks

December 10, 2015

Dr. Jennifer C van Velkinburgh, Filipodia Publishing


The quotation marks, which come in pairs, are often used to quote a phrase, denote a title, or set off dialog. This month, we’d like to give some tips regarding the different types of quotation marks and their usage with accompanying punctuation (e.g. commas, periods, and semi-colons) and references (i.e. in-text citations).


Tips for single quotation marks and double quotation marks:


These two types of quotation marks represent one of the many differences between American English and British English (which were established, in part, to assert the younger nation’s cultural independence during its revolutionary split); accordingly, while single quotation marks are common in British English, it is much more common to use the double quotation mark in American English.


A more hard-and-fast grammar rule for the use of quotation marks, however, is that when a quotation needs to be enclosed within another quotation, the use single quotation marks are used within the double quotation marks. For example: The AHA guidelines for managing hypertension endorse the use of “a cutoff value of 0.5 for screening and counseling, as ‘liver transplant patients are at higher risk’ according to Dr. EG Webb.”


Tips for punctuation around quotation marks:

  • Semicolons, colons, and dashesshould always stay outside the quotation marks.
  • Question marks and exclamation marksshould go inside the quotation marks if they are part of the quotation; otherwise, they need to go outside.
  • Commas and periodsabide by a little more complicated rule because people follow different instructions in different countries. In American English, these punctuation marks should always be inside the quotation marks. In British English, they can stay either inside or outside the quotation marks, depending on whether they are the part of the quotation or not.