One thing many non-native English writers struggle with is quotation marks. In this article, we’ll look at single and double quotation marks, when/how to use them, and how different style guides dictate their usage. Note: The main rules we outline below come from the Oxford Guide To Style.
DOUBLE QUOTATION MARKS
Double quotation marks are commonly used in the United States and Canada, where single quotes are rarely used for direct, verbatim speech. In these areas, it is common practice to place commas, full stops, and other forms of punctuation inside the quotation marks. It is recommended, for example, to use a comma before closing the quotation mark to identify the speaker. Here’s an example of that: “I can’t be bothered to do my homework,” John said. Full stops at the end of a quote should also be kept inside the quotation marks according to most US styles. Here’s an example of how to use double quotes to denote speech in your writing: The professor said his findings were important for numerous reasons. “They show that, despite being highly reactive in its natural form, the chemical can be handled safely in a controlled environment,” he said. “I really hope these findings will encourage further research into this chemical and its potential uses.”
SINGLE QUOTATION MARKS
Single quotes are commonly used instead of double quotes in the UK. The rules for using single quotes are similar to those of using double quotation marks. In general, commas and full stops should be kept inside the quotation if they form part of the quoted material. However, some British publications will keep any punctuation that isn’t part of the quoted material outside the quotes. Hence, you may see quotes like this in some UK publications: ‘What is the use of a book’, thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?’ Note: The Oxford Guide To Style has more specific rules about the use of single quotes. Some of these rules are outlined below in more detail, but make sure to check the style guide for more detailed explanations.
- You can use single quotes to enclose a word that’s unfamiliar or used in a technical sense. EG: Our subject is the age of Latin literature known as ‘Silver’.
When using quotes this way, they should only be used at the first mention of the word/phrase.
- Single quotes should not be used for slang or colloquial words.
WHEN TO USE SINGLE/DOUBLE QUOTATION MARKS
When and how you use single/double quotes varies greatly among countries. In the US, double quotes are usually used for direct quotes, whereas single quotation marks are used for quotes within a quote. Here’s an example of how you would use double and single quotation marks together in the US: “Mom,” he said, “do you know what ‘superfluous’ means?” In the UK or Australia, however, it’s the other way around: ‘Mom’, he said, ‘do you know what “superfluous” means?’
A NOTE ON STYLE
As a general rule of thumb, stick to these uses of quotations, but keep in mind that different publishers may have their own rules regarding style. In fact, writers might even follow their own style preferences regarding quotation marks. Some authors, for example, use single quotation marks to denote thoughts or irony. There are countless writers who also refuse to use quotation marks altogether, but this is usually for creative reasons. In a professional setting, you’ll always want to follow the style guide used by your publisher. If you’re a creative writer, check out this article on why some authors prefer writing without quotation marks.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY
English grammar rules are full of exceptions. So, one of the best rules to follow as a non-native English writer is this: Whatever you do, be consistent about it. Maintain the same style throughout each entire text. Finally, if you’re ever stuck, simply check with your editor to ensure which style guide they’d like you to adhere to. For more articles on English writing techniques and related info, make sure to check out our blog.