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Punctuation 5: Quotation Marks


Quotation marks are used to set off direct quotations, titles, words used in a special sense, and brief passages of prose or poetry. Quotations marks are always used in pairs, one at the beginning of a quotation and one at the end. There are two types of quotation marks, double (" ") and single (' '). When we don't specify which type to use, we always mean the double.

A. Use quotation marks for direct quotations.

    A direct quotation reproduces exactly what someone said or wrote.

    Jeanne said, "My mother is a bit of an eccentric."

    "When were you planning to tell me?" the professor asked.

    As Michael Flint wrote, "The iguana is the noblest of creatures."

Do not use quotation marks with an indirect quotation, which does not give the exact words that were spoken. For example,

    Jeanne said that her mother was a bit of an eccentric.

    The professor asked me when I was planning to tell him.

When you are recording the dialogue between several people, remember to begin a new paragraph with each new speaker. Here is one example.

      "Did you do your English paper yet?" Sally asked.
      "No," Wynona said, not taking her eyes from the television.
      Sally sat down on the couch beside her. "Were you planning to
    start soon?"
      "I don't know." Wynona checked her watch. "Brad Pitt is coming
    on at nine."

When you are quoting a short passage from a book (either prose or poetry), this also goes in quotation marks.

    According to Thin Thighs in Thirty Days, "Leg lifts should be done three times a day for thirty minutes at a time."

In poetry, the end of each line of the poem should be marked with a slash.

    Poe writes, "No rays from the holy heaven come down / On the long night-time of that town."

However (here's our exception to the rule), when you quote a passage more than four lines long (again, either prose or poetry), instead of placing it in quotation marks, you should indent it approximately ten spaces from the left margin. For example,

    Sharon Smith conveys the brilliance of Platoon by describing its most
    intense scene:
      When Barnes and the platoon find one of its members savagely
      killed, they march into a nearby town in search of the enemy.
      Chris, frustrated and frightened, fires into the ground at the feet of
      one of the inhabitants, but stops himself form going further.
      Barnes, infuriated by the lack of cooperation of the civilians, kills
      one woman and threatens a child.
    It is this scene which embodies all the major characteristics of the film.

B. Use single quotation marks for quotes within quotes.

This is easiest to show with an example.

    She said, "The sheriff told me not to move. He said, 'Wait here until I get back.'"

    Jeff said, "The teacher told me that my hope of getting an A was 'an impossible dream.'"

C. Put quotation marks around the titles of short works or the titles of works that are part of longer works.

While the titles of long works such as books, movies, television series, periodicals, and others are underlined or italicized, the titles of shorter works are put in quotation marks. These include articles, essays, short stories, short poems, songs, essays or sections of books, and episodes of television shows.

    In the Star Trek episode "The City on the Edge of Forever," Kirk and Spock go back in time.

    Axl Rose said, "My favorite song is 'November Rain.'"

D. Words being defined or used in a special sense are sometimes enclosed in quotation marks.

This is an option, not a requirement. Here are some examples.

    His "love machine" was actually a rusty 1971 Dodge Dart.

    By "excellence" I mean complete mastery.

Remember, as stated in Part 4, Section C of this essay, words used as words are italicized.

E. Use other punctuation marks correctly with quotation marks.

Many people are confused about where punctuation marks that come at the end of a quote go in relation to the quotation marks and for good reason. The rules are a little complicated, since they originated in the early days of printing and were created to help printers. Once you learn them, though, they're easy to use. These rules apply to both single and double quotation marks.

Commas and periods always go within quotation marks.

    "John," she said, "I can't find the iguana."

    Chaucer uses humor in "The Miller's Tale."

    "November Rain," "Three Blind Mice," and "America the Beautiful" were her three favorite songs.

    Colons and semicolons always go outside quotation marks.

    McCabe says "we all go with God"; Koja says "we all go alone."

    The candidate promised a "major tax cut": five percent per person.

Here's the tricky part. Question marks, exclamation points, and dashes go within the quotation marks if they are part of the quotation. They go outside the quotation marks if they are not part of the quotation. For example,

    "Did you go to the store?" John asked.

    "No," Julie said, "I went to see Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"

    "You idiot!" John said.

    "How can you--" Julie broke off, disgusted.

    Did you like "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

    Quit reciting "The Road Not Taken"!

    Don't call me "Patty fatty"!

    Flint's comment--"The iguana is the most noble of animals"--is disputed by many.

Exercises for Part 5
Here are some exercises covering what you've just learned about quotation marks. Insert quotation marks and make corrections where necessary.

  1. Nick said that he loved Maggie more than life itself.
  1. Maggie said, Blow it out your ear, Nick.
  1. Hey! Nick said. What did I do to deserve that?
  1. Didn't you say you'd write my paper on The Tell-Tale Heart? Maggie asked. Didn't you--
  1. I didn't get around to finishing The Tell-Tale Heart--the most boring story ever written--because I was busy buying your birthday present! Nick protested.
  1. Commitment to you is just a joke.
  1. The opening is the most haunting part of the story Family Affair: At the airport I sense their secrets, stored safely in lockers until the festivities are over.
  1. Do you know the words to November Rain?
  1. Flint says, The iguana is the most noble of animals; Shanahan says, The only creature lower than the iguana is the snake.
  1. Poe writes, Once it smiled a silent dell / Where the people did not dwell; / They had gone unto the wars, / Trusting to the mild-eyed stars, / Nightly, from their azure towers.
Thanks for dropping by!...

Except where noted, Content © 1996 - 2019 Jeanne Cavelos
< jcavelos@odysseyworkshop.org >
Updated Nov 30, 2002
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