Quotation Marks

1. What are Quotation Marks?

Quotations marks (“”) are parts of punctuation that we use to identify quotations, direct speech, and to highlight special words and phrases. We also use them for titles of certain things, and to point out dialogue in works of fiction. Sometimes, they are called “quotations” or “speech marks.” Either way, they are a very important type of punctuation!

This article will discuss the way we use quotation marks in American English—but, it’s important to note that in British English and other languages, quotation marks follow different rules.


2. Examples of Quotations Marks

Quotation marks are very useful. Here are some ways you see them every day:

  • “I love cookies,” said Sam.      Identifying speech
  • I think “selfies” are the most popular kind of photo.      Highlighting a word
  • The music magazine said “air guitar is the next big thing in rock.”      Sharing a quotation
  • “The Art of Cookies” is my favorite essay.      Showing a title


3. Ways to Use Quotation Marks

We use quotation marks for all kinds of things in writing and literature, like sharing quotations, adding emphasis, expressing dialogue, and identifying titles.

a. Quotations

One of the most important ways we use quotations is to “quote” someone’s or something’s words. To quote something means to repeat exactly what was said. For example, we use it to show direct speech, meaning exactly what someone said:

  • The policeman said “STOP RIGHT THERE!”
  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s began his speech by saying“I have a dream.”

This same idea can also show quotations from pieces of literature, television, radio, and so on:

  • The newspaper article stated, “Hurricane Silly is the worst that has been seen in years.”
  • The most famous line from Shakespeare’s plays is “To be, or not to be: that is the question.”

b. Highlighting a Word or Phrase

Quotations can help us separate a word or phrase from the rest of a sentence, showing that something has an important meaning, like this:

  • The fire department issued a “red alert” in the area for the fast-moving forest fire.
  • The hotel room had a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door.

Here, “red alert” is in quotations because it highlights specific, important term. Likewise, “Do Not Disturb” shows that the sign had an important message.

Next, quotation marks can show that the word inside the marks has a special meaning besides its normal definition, like slang. The marks tell the reader that the word is being talked about, not used as part of the sentence. This helps share a new or unusual idea that some people might not understand:

  • People try to get as many “likes” as possible when they post a photo on Instagram.
    Taking pictures of yourself “planking” was once a popular social media trend.
    These days,“selfies” are all that I see on Instagram.

These quotation marks tell us that “likes” is actually a special term for something you can do on Instagram. Without quotation marks, “likes” wouldn’t make sense here. Likewise, “planking” and “selfies” are words used to show a trend.

What’s more, quotation marks are used to apply a normal idea to something new, like this:

  • Burger King now has chicken “fries” on their menu.
  • Vegetarians often eat “chicken nuggets” made from tofu.

Here, both sets of quotation marks above highlight an idea that we can picture in our heads. Although fries aren’t made from chicken, putting “fries” in quotations shows us that the chicken looks like french fries, not that there are real french fries. Likewise, “chicken nuggets” show that the food is similar to chicken nuggets, but made from soy.

c. Dialogue

Quotation marks can also show dialogue (speaking) of a person or character. It’s different than showing direct quotations, because dialogue shows a conversation that the reader can witness. So, that makes quotation marks very important for fiction. Here’s an example:

  • “Where are you going, Sally?” asked Sam.
    “I have to go to the market to buy flour for my cookies,” she replied.
    “Well, make sure you get some milk to eat with those cookies!”

Without quotation marks, it would be very difficult to ever know when a character was speaking!

d. For Titles

Finally, another important way we use quotation marks is to show titles of things. Here’s a list of things that should be inside quotation marks:

  • Short works like essays, poems, and short stories
  • Songs
  • Short plays
  • Other works of literature that are shorter than a full book
  • Sections from longer works or books (like chapter titles)
  • Newspaper, magazine, and online articles
  • Episodes of TV

Furthermore, you should NOT use quotation marks for book titles, movie titles, or any longer work that has smaller sections in it—for these things, we use italics or underlining.


4. How to Use Quotation Marks with other Punctuation

When it comes to punctuation, there are a lot of little rules for quotation marks to follow, and it can get confusing. Here are some rules to help you (for American English!):

Periods and commas go INSIDE quotation marks, even when they aren’t part of a direct quote or title:

  • The article said “purple hair is stupid,” and I thought that was very rude.
  • My favorite song is “Popcorn Pop,” which is from the album Carnival Time.
  • The title of the essay is “How to Make Cotton Candy.”

Colons, semicolons, and long dashes go OUTSIDE quotation marks:

  • You can hear two instruments in the song “Popcorn Pop”: drums and guitar.
  • My friend always said it wasn’t danger to take “selfies”—until she fell down the stairs!
  • I used to love the “Hokey Pokey”; it was a big part of my childhood.

Exclamation marks and question marks can be tricky. If one is part of a direct quote or title, then they go inside the quotation marks, like this:

  • Sam asked “can I have a cookie?” before they were even finished.
  • “You can’t have any cookies!” yelled Sally.

But, if it’s not part of a direct quote, title, or phrase, then the exclamation mark or question mark goes outside of the quotation marks:

  • Is your favorite song “Popcorn Pop”?
  • I absolutely love the “Hokey Pokey”!
  • Did you just take a “selfie”?

As mentioned earlier, the rules for quotation marks are different in different places. For example, in British English, periods and commas go outside of quotation marks, so don’t be surprised if you see that in a work of British literature, or from a British newspaper.


5. How to Avoid Mistakes

Quotation marks are common, and so are mistakes involving them! For instance, they always come in sets—don’t make the mistake of just using one set and forgetting the other!

Actually, the biggest problems come when you use them with other punctuation marks, as outlined in the last section. But, if you use them to single out words or phrases that don’t need them, you can end up with some pretty silly or confusing sentences!

Using quotation marks to add stress or importance to a word is an all too common mistake. People often think they should use it to add stress to a word or make it stand out, like this:

  • Employees “must” wash their hands before returning to work.

As you can see, using quotation marks is not a good way to make “must” stand out! In this way, it makes it seem that has a different meaning other than it’s true meaning. That may make people think that they don’t actually need to wash their hands!

When you need to add stress to a word, the best choice is usually to use bold or CAPITAL letters, or underline the words you mean to emphasize, like this:

  • Employees MUST wash their hands before returning to work.

Now the meaning of this note is very clear! Here’s another example:

  • “Do Not” enter!      The meaning here is confusing.
    DO NOT enter!      Clear meaning

Test your Knowledge

TRUE or FALSE: Quotation marks are used the same way in all languages.



What does it mean to “quote” someone or something?




Name three things whose titles should be in quotation marks:




TRUE or FALSE: All types of punctuation should inside quotation marks all of the time.



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