Quotation marks (inverted commas) are one of the unique punctuation marks in English. They’re generally used to show what someone has said, though they have other uses. Moreover, they’re sometimes used in different ways in British and American English.
Uses of quotation marks
- To enclose a direct speech.
- ‘Who else was there with him?’ she queried.
Note that the word following the closing quotation mark starts with a small letter (unless it’s a proper noun or ‘I’).
- To draw attention to emphasized or unusual words, such as informal words, slang words, irony, sarcasm, words from other languages, etc.
- We’re all aware of numerous ‘projects’ completed by the governor.
- Ray is a fearless man, he’s always ‘on point’.
- To Indicate the title of a book, poem, play, etc.
- Wole Soyinka’s ‘Abiku’.
- I went to the cinema to see ‘No Escape’.
- To show sayings and short quotations.
- Do you know why the expression ‘sleep tight’ was coined?
British and American styles
- Single quotation marks are used in British English while American English uses double.
- ”What’s the match score again?” (American)
- ‘What’s the match score again?’ (British)
- British English uses single quotation marks for the initial quotation but double for the quotation within the initial quotation; American English uses double quotation marks in the initial quotation but single in the embedded.
- ‘My view might be different from his because he’s fond of saying, “People don’t understand the way I think”, and that makes him weird.’ (British)
- “My view may be different from his because he’s fond of saying, ‘People don’t understand the way I think,’ and that makes him weird.” (American)
- The differences in British and American use of quotation marks is confusing to some writers. The main difference, however, is the positions of commas and full stops in quoted expressions. In British English, commas and full stops that are not part of the quoted text are placed outside the quotation marks. In American English, it is the opposite.
- The main point of their resolution was that “whoever is found guilty should be dismissed.” (American)
- The main point of their resolution was that ‘whoever is found guilty should be dismissed’. (British)
However, both British and American English agree on the use of other punctuation marks in quotation — if they’re not part of the quote, they stay outside.
- In embedded quotation, the arrangement of quotation marks in British and American English is different.
- “My mind is made up, and has General Bazaki said, ‘We must all pay the ultimate price when we falter and fall.'”
- ‘My mind is made up, and has General Bazaki said, “We must all pay the ultimate price when we falter and fall.”‘ (British)
American: double, single, single, double.
British: single, double, double, single.
- “Her father said, ‘We will go to the mall tomorrow’,” recalled Tope. (American)
- ‘Her father said, “We will go to the mall tomorrow”,’ recalled Tope. (British)
- In dialogue, use a new paragraph for each new speaker.
‘What’s the new law about?’ I asked
He smiled and looked away.
‘You don’t want to tell me?’
‘Maybe I shouldn’t, sir,’ he said casually.
- Use a comma to separate spoken words from the verbs that indicate them.
- ‘That’s the simple truth,’ he concluded.
- Hadassah said, ‘My fame is still like a dream.’
Note that the comma is placed inside the direct speech when the information about the speaker comes after it (as in 1), while it comes before it when the information comes first (as in 2).
- If the information about the speaker interrupts the direct speech, use a comma, exclamation mark or question mark (as appropriate) to end the first part.
- ‘No!’ he cried. ‘I did not receive anything from Dasuki.’
- ‘Feeling invincible,’ she said, ‘he walked in without his weapon.’
- ‘When?’ he asked angrily. ‘Then don’t bother about coming back home.’
- When quoting multiple paragraphs, quote the beginning of each paragraph but use the closing quotation mark at the end of the last paragraph only.
‘ I’m here today to give you the information you need in order to succeed in your business…
‘The first rule of success that you should never forget is…
‘Secondly, the basic attribute of any successful person is…
‘With these rules, it’s time to start your own business.’