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Using Quotation Marks Correctly

Updated on April 3, 2013
The WRONG way to use quotation marks... Makes me wonder what they are really serving...
The WRONG way to use quotation marks... Makes me wonder what they are really serving... | Source

The "Quotation Mark"

Speech marks. Quotes. Quotation marks. Whatever you want to call it - these pesky critters seem to be the bane of most of my student's writing. When correcting papers I have gotten anything from "Hello"! to "Why"' she asked?.

Its not pretty, to say the least. However, its not the end of the road. There are many simple things that you can do to remember what piece of punctuation precedes what, and where everything should go. Here I will explain how punctuation interacts with quotation marks, and the proper way to quote things in English writing.

The Basics

The first thing that we know about quotation marks is that they mark quotations.

"I said it would be easy."

And it will be! However, what happens when you quote someone quoting someone? You use regular double marks for the person actually speaking, and then a singular mark for someone not.

"I know he 'said it would be easy' but I am not so sure anymore."

Don't worry! That's all for basic quotation marks!

Another bad usage of quotation marks. When misused, quotation marks denote that it isn't really what is inside the marks.
Another bad usage of quotation marks. When misused, quotation marks denote that it isn't really what is inside the marks. | Source

Advanced Quotation Mark and Punctuation Orders

In the United States, periods and commas go inside quotation marks. In British English they go outside.

In both British and US English, exclamation and question marks go outside the quotation marks, unless said mark is only supposed to be with the sentence or phrase in quotations.

Quotation marks and semicolons and colons interact the same way as periods and comas do in British English - they go outside quotation marks.

Asterisks and dashes, along with anything else should go outside quotation marks as well. Please read the following for examples.

Advanced Quotation Mark and Punctuation Examples

A short conversational narrative. It even has quoting a quote that is quoting something, just for fun!

A: "Did you know, Beethoven's Symphony Number 5 was voted onto a list of the Top 100 Songs That Changed History?"

B: "I'm not sure I know what song that is... Oh, wait! Isn't that usually called 'Beethoven's Fifth'?"

A: "Yes... Perhaps you should spend more time listening to music than watching that TV."

B: "But I love 'Who's Line Is It Anyway?' and will never give it up."

A: "That's funny, that sounds like the last words of a murder victim from the book I was reading. '"But I love this show," she said, 'and I will never give it up!"' And then she died. I guess she gave it up rather quickly..."

B: "Is that song kind of strange threat?"

A: "Of course not, but I am offended you would think that way and am leaving!"*

B: "Fine! Bye"-

*He said rather angrily, I might add.

There you have it! I think I threw in every possible combination of punctuation possible.

One last comical quotation mark malfunction. "Safety First" like, we don't really mean it but have to say it or something.
One last comical quotation mark malfunction. "Safety First" like, we don't really mean it but have to say it or something. | Source

Quotation Mark Troubles Gone

Hopefully you have been able to learn a bit about how this whole messy thing works. Honestly, it can be confusing, and sometimes I have to look it up myself. Sometimes you see something that is wrong so many times that you start to wonder if you yourself are wrong. However, stay strong and keep checking your grammar and punctuation! It is one of the main things that helps us function as a society - and one of the main things people look at when hiring, not firing, or judging your social worth!

Have fun, and good luck with whatever you are writing!


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    • Danieljohnston profile image

      Daniel Johnston 3 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      In American English, () are parenthesis and [] are brackets, and for most cases they go outside. I always think it looks better inside... Its always interesting to look at punctuation in other languages, too. For instance, some don't even use quotation marks for quotations, they use other symbols. 「例えば、日本。」 "For instance, Japanese."

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 3 years ago from Essex, UK

      Well I thought I knew how to use quotation marks Daniel, but I didn't know their usage varied between British English and American English, or that location of the punctuation mark in relation to quotations could differ according to which type of punctuation is used.

      Not strictly relevant to this hub, but my biggest problem is where you put the punctuation mark when using brackets. (Should it be inside the bracket?) (Or maybe it should be outside the bracket).

      Cheers. Punctuation marks may seem trivial to some, but there have to be standards, and incorrect usage can alter the meaning of a sentence. :)

    • Danieljohnston profile image

      Daniel Johnston 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      They say when language stops adapting that it is dead - and I agree, if I don't agree with all the "adaptions" younger generations make. Haha. I think there should be more guides, even as suggestions for bettering writing because language is - to say the least - complicated.

      Complicated and easy to confuse! As a historian I focused a lot on Early Modern England. For months my writing was recovering from the old spellings and word usage.

      Good points, and thanks for the vote up!

    • profile image

      Jean Valerie Kotzur nee Stoneman 5 years ago from Germany

      A 'Guide to Writing English Correctly' is offered by every second person on the internet, and most of them have only just finished their education. Please do not take this as a 'put down' because I have read a few hubs that could really do with a makeover, or the hubber with some education and that is where your hub comes in to its own. English is a very adaptable language and many writers have formed their own way of using it. Through the centuries English has been adapted to suit whole continents e.g. USA and Australia although British English of the era was most definitely spoken there first. In addition to this, the way English was spoken centuries ago, e.g. 18th C, Pride and Prejudice and the 19th C, A Christmas Story, shows that the language was constantly developing. Experienced writers will have their own licence of word and puctuation usage, based, of course, on the formal and accepted English of the country in which they live. Keep up the good work it is needed.

      Voting up