Quotation mark  

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"Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It's not a lamp, but a "lamp"; not a woman, but a "woman." To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater."--"Notes on Camp", Susan Sontag

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Quotation marks or inverted commas (informally referred to as quotes and speech marks) are punctuation marks used in pairs to set off speech, a quotation, a phrase or a word. The pair consists of an opening quotation mark and a closing quotation mark, which may or may not be the same character.

They have a variety of forms in different languages and in different media:

For fragments of a human expression placed inside quotation marks, see Quotation.

In English usage, they come as pairs in two forms: as single quotation marks (‘. . .’), and as double quotation marks (“. . .”).



Quotations and speech

Single or double quotation marks denote either speech or a quotation. Neither style – single or double – is an absolute rule, though double quotation marks are preferred in the United States, and both single and double quotation marks are used in the United Kingdom. A publisher’s or even an author’s style may take precedence over national general preferences.

The important rule is that the style of opening and closing quotation marks must be matched:

‘Good morning, Dave,’ greeted HAL.
“Good morning, Dave,” greeted HAL.

For speech within speech, the other is used as inner quotation marks:

‘HAL said, “Good morning, Dave,” ’ recalled Frank.
“HAL said, ‘Good morning, Dave,’ ” recalled Frank.

Omitting quotation marks is generally not recommended.

Sometimes, quotations are nested in more levels than inner and outer quotation. Nesting levels up to five can be found in the Bible. In these cases, questions arise about the form (and names) of the quotation marks to be used. The most common way is to simply alternate between the two forms, thus:

‘…“…‘ …   … ’…”…’…”

If such a passage is further quoted in another publication, then all of their forms have to be shifted over by one level.

In most cases, quotations that span multiple paragraphs should be set as block quotations, and thus do not require quotation marks. Quotation marks are used for multiple-paragraph quotations in some cases, especially in narratives. The convention in English is to give the first and each subsequent paragraph opening quotation marks, using closing quotation marks only for the final paragraph of the quotation. The Spanish convention, though similar, uses closing quotation marks at the beginning of all subsequent paragraphs beyond the first.

When quoted text is interrupted, such as with the phrase he said, a closing quotation mark is used before the interruption, and an opening quotation mark after. Commas are also often used before and after the interruption, more often for quotations of speech than for quotations of text:

“HAL,” noted Frank, “said that everything was going extremely well.”

It is generally considered incorrect to use quotation marks for paraphrased speech where they may give the impression that the paraphrasing represents the actual words used.

If HAL says: “All systems are functional.”, then:

Wrong: HAL said that “Everything was going extremely well.”
Right: HAL said that everything was going extremely well.
Right: HAL said, “All systems are functional.”

However, another convention when quoting text in the body of a paragraph or sentence, for example in philosophical essays, is to recognize double quotation marks as marking an exact quotation, and single quotation marks as marking a paraphrased quotation or a quotation where grammar, pronouns or plurality have been changed in order to fit the sentence containing the quotation (this is the same as reported speech).


Another important use of quotation marks is to indicate or call attention to ironic or apologetic words. Ironic quotation marks can also be called scare, sneer, shock, distance or horror quotes. Ironic quotation marks are sometimes gestured in oral speech using air quotes:

My brother claimed he was “too busy” to help me.
The “Christian” woman littered.

The second usage implies the writer's judgment that the behavior (littering) negates the adjective (Christian). This usage explains why journalistic use of single-word quotes is often seen as elitist editorializing, when in fact the writer may have intended only to indicate a neologism, or a genuine quotation. (The word “claimed” in the first sentence is also understood to imply doubt, and should be used only when required.)

For that reason, quotation marks indicating ironic use of a term should be used with care. Without the intonational cues of speech, they can obscure the writer’s intended meaning. They can also be confused easily with direct quotations, so some style guides specify single quotation marks for this usage, and double quotation marks for verbatim speech.

Signaling unusual usage

Quotation marks are also used to indicate that the writer realizes that a word is not being used in its current commonly-accepted sense.

In the fifteenth century, we “knew” that the Sun’s revolution divided day from night.
Woody Allen joked, “I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.”

In addition to conveying a neutral attitude and to call attention to a neologism or a slang or special terminology (also known as jargon), quoting can also indicate words or phrases that are descriptive but unusual, colloquial, folksy, startling, humorous, or metaphoric:

Dawkins’s concept of the meme could be described as an “evolving idea”.

People use quotation marks in this way to:

  • indicate descriptive but unusual, colloquial, folksy words or phrases
  • indicate descriptive but startling, humorous, or metaphoric words or phrases
  • distance the writer from the terminology in question so as not to be associated with it. For example, to indicate that a quoted word is not official terminology, or that a quoted phrase pre-supposes things that the author does not necessarily agree with.
  • indicate special terminology that should be identified for accuracy's sake as someone else's terminology, for example if a term (particularly a controversial term) pre-dates the writer or represents the views of someone else, perhaps without judgement (contrast this neutrally-distancing quoting to the negative use of scare quotes)

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), 15th edition acknowledges this type of use but cautions against overuse in section 7.58, “Quotation marks are often used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard, ironic, or other special sense [...] They imply ‘This is not my term’ or ‘This is not how the term is usually applied.’. Like any such device, scare quotes lose their force and irritate readers if overused."

Use–mention distinction

Either quotation marks or italic type can emphasize that an instance of a word refers to the word itself rather than its associated concept.

Cheese is derived from milk.
“Cheese” is derived from a word in Old English.
Cheese has calcium, protein, and phosphorus.
Cheese has three es.

A three-way distinction is occasionally made between normal use of a word (no quotation marks), referring to the concept behind the word (single quotation marks), and the word itself (double quotation marks):

When discussing ‘use’, use “use”.

Books about language often use italics for the word itself and single quotation marks for a gloss:

The French word canif ‘pocketknife’ is borrowed from Old English cnif ‘knife’.

In common usage, there may be a distinction between the single and double quotation marks in this context; often, single quotation marks are used to embrace single characters, while double quotation marks enclose whole words or phrases:

  • The letter 'o' is one of the most used in the English language.
  • The term "cremation" refers to the burning of the body after death.
  • "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" is a well-known quote from 1939 film Gone With the Wind.

The two may, however, in these cases, be to some degree interchangeable.

Titles of artistic works

Quotation marks, rather than italics, are generally used for the titles of shorter works. Whether these are single or double is again a matter of style:

  • Short fiction, poetry, etc.: Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Sentinel”
  • Book chapters: The first chapter of 3001: The Final Odyssey is “Comet Cowboy”
  • Articles in books, magazines, journals, etc.: “Extra-Terrestrial Relays,” Wireless World, October 1945
  • Album tracks, singles, etc.: David Bowie’s “Space Oddity

Nicknames and false titles

Quotation marks offset a nickname embedded in an actual name, or a false or ironic title embedded in an actual title; for example, Nat “King” Cole.

Emphasis (incorrect usage)

Quotes are sometimes used incorrectly for emphasis in lieu of underlining or italics, most commonly on signs or placards. This usage can be confused with ironic or altered-usage quotation, sometimes with unintended humor. For example, For sale: “fresh” fish, “fresh” oysters, could be construed to imply that fresh is not used with its everyday meaning, or indeed to indicate that the fish or oysters are anything but fresh. And again, Teller lines open until noon for your “convenience might mean that the convenience was for the bank employees, not the customers.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Quotation mark" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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