We use quotation marks to show (or mark) the beginning and end of a word or phrase that is somehow special or comes from outside the text that we are writing. Quotation marks can be double ("...") or single ('...') - that is really a matter of style (but see below for more about this).
Quotation marks are also called "quotes" or "inverted commas".
1. Use quotation marks around the title or name of a book, film, ship etc:
- The third most popular book of all time, "Harry Potter", has sold over 400,000,000 copies.
- 'Titanic' is a 1997 movie directed by James Cameron about the sinking of the ship 'Titanic'.
Note that in the above case, we may use "italics" instead of quotation marks. So the above examples would then appear as:
- The third most popular book of all time, Harry Potter, has sold over 400,000,000 copies.
- Titanic is a 1997 movie directed by James Cameron about the sinking of the ship Titanic.
Obviously, the use of italics is not possible in handwriting or with old-style typewriters.
2. We use quotation marks around a piece of text that we are quoting or citing, usually from another source:
- In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language, David Crystal argues that punctuation "plays a critical role in the modern writing system".
3. Use quotation marks around dialogue or direct speech:
- It was a moonlit night. James opened the door and stepped onto the balcony, followed by Mary. They stood in silence for a few moments, looking at the moon. Then Mary turned to him and said: "Do you love me, James?"
4. Use quotation marks around a word or phrase that we see as slang or jargon:
- The police were called to a "disturbance" - which in reality was a pretty big fight.
5. Use quotation marks around a word or phrase that we want to make "special" in some way:
- Note that sometimes we use "italics" instead of quotation marks.
Double or single quotation marks?
Quotation marks can be double ("-") or single ('-'). If we want to use quotation marks inside quotation marks, then we use single inside double, or double inside single.
- He said to her: "I thought 'Titanic' was a good film."
- He said to her: 'I thought "Titanic" was a good film.'
Punctuation inside or outside final quotation mark?
If the quoted words end with a full stop, then the full stop goes inside the quotation marks. If the quoted words do not end with a full stop, then the full stop goes outside the quotation marks:
- He said: "I love you."
- She has read "War and Peace".
Note that in US English, the full stop usually goes inside the quotation marks in all cases:
- He said: "I love you."
- She has read "War and Peace."
However, US English adopts the British style for question marks and exclamation marks:
- He said: "Do you love me?"
- Have you read "War and Peace"?
- Can you imagine? He has never read "War and Peace"!
How do we indicate quotation marks when speaking?
People may say "quote, unquote" or "open quotes, close quotes" when reading aloud texts containing quotation marks:
- On page two it says, quote, Now is the time to invest, unquote.
- On page two it says, open quotes, Now is the time to invest, close quotes.
"Quote, unquote" may also be said informally in front of rather than around the quoted words:
- The brochure describes the car as, quote, unquote, total luxury.
"Quote, unquote" is sometimes used to mock or show disapproval or disbelief:
- Then he arrived with his quote, unquote new girlfriend.
People sometimes say "in quotes" (often putting up their two hands with two fingers extended on each hand, like quotation marks), indicating that the words came from another source, or in a mocking way, or suggesting that they don't quite believe what they have just said:
- Then he arrived with his new girlfriend, in quotes.
Please note: There are some differences in the use of quotation marks between various varieties of English such as British English or American English. Anyone seeking guidance at an advanced level is recommended to consult a style guide (often included in good dictionaries) for their particular variety.