Quotation Marks

Learning Objectives

  • Demonstrate the appropriate use of quotation marks

You may not find yourself needing to use dialog very often in academic writing, but you may be asked to write narrative essays in some classes, which often contain dialog. You also will need to use quotation marks when you are quoting others’ words, which will happen in almost every genre of academic writing.

When you use dialog, it’s important to use quotation marks to set apart the speech from the rest of your text. Otherwise, separating the dialog from the rest of the writing can be very confusing for readers.

When to use quotation marks?

You should use quotation marks any time you use words directly from another source. Sometimes, students think putting a citation or reference at the end “covers it,” but you must use quotation marks to indicate borrowed words.

“Quotation marks serve primarily to tell the reader the exact words someone used” (Hope, 2010, p. 21).

If you paraphrase a source, this means you have put the information in your own words, and you don’t need to use quotation marks. You should still cite with an in-text citation, but you shouldn’t use quotation marks.

The key to borrowing information from sources is to remember that any words appearing inside quotation marks belong to someone else. Words that do not appear inside quotation marks are assumed to be yours.

Quotation Marks

Appropriate alternative text for this image can be found in the caption.

Figure 1. Quotation marks.

There are four typical ways quotation marks are used.

1. The first is pretty self-explanatory: you use quotation marks when you’re making a direct quote. This includes dialog as well as taking text verbatim from other sources.

  • 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.

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

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

Note: 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.

3. The third use is scare quotesquotation marks that a writer places around a word or phrase to signal that they are using it in a non-standard, ironic, or otherwise special sense. 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.

4. The fourth use is to highlight the title of relatively short creative work or a part of a larger body of work, such as a newspaper article, poem, or chapter. Larger bodies of work, such as books, magazines, or newspapers are usually italicized.

  • Did you read the New Yorker article, “How to Make Yourself Useful to Our New Robot Overlords”?

Where Do Quotation Marks Go?

Despite what you may see practiced, the fact is that the period and comma always go inside the quotation marks. (The rules in British English are different, which may be where some of the confusion arises.)

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

The semicolon, colon, dash, question mark, and exclamation point can fall inside or outside of the quotation marks, depending on whether the punctuation is a part of the original quote:

  • 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.)

Try It

Single Quotation Marks

Now that you know what quotation marks are used for, you may wonder about the single quotation marks—the one that look like ‘this.’

Single quotation marks are used for quotes within quotes, as illustrated in the following example:

  • The article read, “When the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers was interviewed, he said he was ‘upset’ about the call that affected the game.”

You may even encounter situations where you’ll close single quotation marks and double quotation marks at the same time, leaving you with “something like ‘this.’” Don’t worry if this happens. It is correct. It just means the quote within the quote ended at the same time the main quote ended.

Try It



Did you have an idea for improving this content? We’d love your input.

Improve this pageLearn More