Melanie Spiller & Coloratura Consulting
A Tonic for Ramshackle Wordsmiths
Home
Articles
Blogs
News
Contact
About
Copyright Melanie Spiller 2011. Do not copy without permission.
Quotes and Quotation Marks

Quotation marks serve three basic purposes: to show a quoted passage, to highlight a coined word, or to denote a title of a chapter, song, or other short work. (You can also use them for titles of longer works, like books. movies, symphonies, and paintings, but most sources agree that longer works should have their titles italicized.) Quotation marks are not used in the title itself, as you see in some hand-painted signs, nor are they used to provide emphasis. (You can use bold, italics, or underlining for emphasis.)

 

British English quotation mark usage differs from American English in two regards: British English often uses a single quotation mark where American English uses the double (they are not consistent, so it is not a rule), and they often put the quotation mark inside the closing punctuation rather than outside. As most of my readers are either Americans writing to American audiences, or internationals writing for American publishers, I’ll limit my discussion to American usage.

 

The only time you use single quotation marks is within double quotation marks. It’s simple, right? (I realize that programmers use single and double quotation marks differently; that’s what prompted my blog entry today. The difference is confusing, apparently.)

 

She said, “That shirt is ‘cool’ and I have to have it.”

“I don’t like the ending in Hemingway’s ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls,’” Malcolm thought.

 

Quotation marks get put inside parentheses if the word within quotation marks belongs only to the parenthesized section.

 

Rugby follows different rules than soccer (most other languages call soccer “football”).

 

Quotation marks get put outside of other punctuation most of the time. The exception is when the quoted section is not grammatically part of the rest of the sentence. Compare this:

 

Short quotes used without getting permission are called “fair usage.”

 

With this:

 

The menu board said “Free Bread with Tossed Salad”.

 

In the latter example, the quoted matter is an entity complete unto itself, so it’s not part of the rest of the sentence. Imagine replacing the phrase with one word, like “Free” or “Sale,” and you can see why people get confused. The sentence doesn’t really make sense without that quoted element, but the quoted phrase or word stands alone, so the quotation mark goes inside the period.

 

The Chicago Manual of Style (13th ed.) says that a list of quotation-marked words also excludes the punctuation mark, but I’ve found a lot of sources that say otherwise. At any rate, that looks like this:

 

Auxiliary verbs include “will”, “would”, “could”, and “shall”.

 

I like it better like this:

 

Auxiliary verbs include “will,” “would,” “could,” and “shall.”

 

My way allows you to be consistent and always put the punctuation inside the quotation marks. It’s less to remember, and most editors correct to my version.

 

Another way of quoting is in a block of text separate from the other text. Use this style if you have a paragraph to quote. Set it off by indenting the whole paragraph, and you don’t need quotation marks, merely a decent introduction.

 

In his seminal work “The Prince,” Niccolo Machiavelli says:

Therefore, those of our princes who had held their possessions for many years must not accuse fortune for having lost them, but rather their own remissness; for having never in quiet times considered that things might change (as it is a common fault of men not to reckon on storms in fair weather) when adverse times came, they only thought of fleeing, instead of defending themselves; and hoped that the people, enraged by the insolence of the conquerors, would recall them.

 

Notice that a colon prefaced the quotation.

 

When you need to edit a quotation for brevity, or to make it grammatically appropriate to your sentence, enclose changed words in square brackets and use ellipses to mark omitted words.

 

In his seminal work “The Prince,” Niccolo Machiavelli says:

…Princes…must not accuse [fate] for having lost [their possessions], but rather their own remissness; for having never in quiet times considered that things might change (as…men [don’t] reckon on storms in fair weather)….

 

If your quotation contains a misspelling or poor grammar, you can disclaim it by enclosing the Latin word “sic” in square brackets. That means, in essence, “not mine” or “intentionally so written.” (Remind me to tell you the story of helping my dad hang drywall; he went around identifying all the bent nails as “not mine” and signing his initials. Some of them were his. Okay, okay, not many. But still.)

 

Did you notice that I have consistently called them “quotation marks” and not “quotes?” That’s because a quotation mark is a bit of punctuation and a quote is a citation of some sort. In the old days of manual typesetting, where the typesetter moved a series of metal plates onto a wooden block, inked it, and then pressed a piece of paper onto the assembly, the expression “quote, end quote” (not “unquote”) was a quick way of identifying the appropriate plates (the typesetter was a trained tradesman, not a proofreader). The “end quote” portion went after the quoted bit, not in a little pile at the front. In normal life, then and now, the expression “quote, end quote” has no meaning at all.

Home
Articles
Blogs
News
Contact
About