Punctuation Marks: Quotation Marks
The placement of quotation marks perplexes people. Do they go inside or outside of other punctuation marks, like periods and commas? Should they be used to set off titles or to emphasize certain words?
Quotation marks are used for a variety of purposes, including dialogue, quotes, and titles. Many people also use quotation marks to emphasize words and phrases.
One of the most common questions about quotation marks deals with their usage with titles. Are quotation marks appropriate for setting off the title of a book, or is it better to use italics, underlining, or some other punctuation mark or formatting?
Quotation Marks and Dialogue
She said, “I’m writing a book.”
“I’m working on it,” she whispered, “but it’s going to take a while.”
Then she asked, “Are you going to write one too?”
When using quotation marks to portray dialogue, the quotes go outside of the dialogue’s punctuation. Also, dialogue is almost always preceded by a comma (i.e. she said, “something”). In formal documents, the comma may be replaced by a colon (i.e. she said: this is what she said). The dialogue itself should follow the rules of grammar, with the first letter of sentences capitalized, and the appropriate terminal punctuation marks (period, question mark, etc.) should be used as well.
Using Quotes for Emphasis
I was wondering if her “book” was going to be any good.
Should you use quotation marks for emphasis? No. Absolutely not. It’s an amateur maneuver, and you can only get away with it successfully if you’re a master of punctuation marks. Don’t use quotation marks in this manner. If you must emphasize a word, use italics or bold. Better yet, let the way you structure your sentence provide natural emphasis where needed. Never use quotes to emphasize words and phrases. Repeat that three times, then rinse.
Setting Off Titles with Quotation Marks
Most titles should be italicized. But in some cases quotation marks are more appropriate, particularly when using a combination of titles from a single publication, e.g., a magazine title plus article titles or a book title plus chapter titles.
For example, you might be referring to an article in a magazine. You don’t want to use italics to set off the name of the magazine and the title of the article. In this case, you’ll probably use italics for the name of the magazine and put the article title in quotes. In fact, quotation marks are often used for the titles of shorter works: articles, chapter titles, short stories, and essays. I would italicize the name of my blog, Writing Forward but use quotations marks for the title of a post, such as “Punctuation Marks: Quotation Marks.”
Using quotation marks for titles is not grammatically incorrect, however. It’s actually a style issue, so if you’re not sure how to format your titles, check your style guide.
British vs. American English
It’s interesting to note that British writing differs greatly when it comes to placing other punctuation marks inside or outside quotation marks. In fact, a British quote looks like this:
She said, “I’m writing a book”.
This looks incredibly strange to me, and I’m quite surprised that I never knew about this difference until just a couple of years ago. It’s worth noting, however, and it’s also worth keeping in mind that different English speaking regions have different rules about grammar and punctuation, which is good to know in this age of globalization.
A few final tips for using quotation marks:
- For American English, place terminal punctuation marks inside the quotes.
- Do not use quotation marks to emphasize words or phrases.
- Use italics for the names of books and magazines, and use quotation marks for titles of shorter pieces, such as articles and chapters.
Do you have any questions about quotation marks or any other punctuation marks? Leave a comment, and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll dig it up for you!