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Introducing Quotes (Correct Punctuation)

Introducing Quotes (Correct Punctuation)

Author: Rebecca Oberg

This learning packet should review:
-Punctuation rules when introducing quotes.
-Common punctuation errors with quotes.

Using a wide range of sources (slide show presentations, multimedia video clips, and helpful texts), this learning packet appeals to many learning styles and offers a broad overview of quotation mark use in writing. By giving lots of examples, providing definitions and explanations, and more, the packet will help writers at all experience levels become more proficient with writing dialogue.

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Quotation Marks 101

This very brief video clip gives a quick but informative look at quotation marks. It's a great place to start for any student struggling with punctuation marks!

Source: YouTube

Using Quotation Marks in Dialogue

This short video clip offers a brief explanation and examples for using quotation marks in dialogue.

Source: YouTube

How to Use Quotation Marks

The primary function of quotation marks is to set off and represent exact language (either spoken or written) that has come from somebody else. The quotation mark is also used to designate speech acts in fiction and sometimes poetry. Since you will most often use them when working with outside sources, successful use of quotation marks is a practical defense against accidental plagiarism and an excellent practice in academic honesty. The following rules of quotation mark use are the standard in the United States, although it may be of interest that usage rules for this punctuation do vary in other countries.

The following covers the basic use of quotation marks. For details and exceptions consult the separate sections of this guide.

Direct Quotations

Direct quotations involve incorporating another person's exact words into your own writing.

1. Quotation marks always come in pairs. Do not open a quotation and fail to close it at the end of the quoted material.

2. Capitalize the first letter of a direct quote when the quoted material is a complete sentence.

Mr. Johnson, who was working in his field that morning, said, "The alien spaceship appeared right before my own two eyes."

3. Do not use a capital letter when the quoted material is a fragment or only a piece of the original material's complete sentence.

Although Mr. Johnson has seen odd happenings on the farm, he stated that the spaceship "certainly takes the cake" when it comes to unexplainable activity.

4. If a direct quotation is interrupted mid-sentence, do not capitalize the second part of the quotation.

"I didn't see an actual alien being," Mr. Johnson said, "but I sure wish I had."

5. In all the examples above, note how the period or comma punctuation always comes before the final quotation mark. It is important to realize also that when you are using MLA or some other form of documentation, this punctuation rule may change.

When quoting text with a spelling or grammar error, you should transcribe the error exactly in your own text. However, also insert the term sic in italics directly after the mistake, and enclose it in brackets. Sic is from the Latin, and translates to "thus," "so," or "just as that." The word tells the reader that your quote is an exact reproduction of what you found, and the error is not your own.

Mr. Johnson says of the experience, "it's made me reconsider the existence of extraterrestials [sic]."

6. Quotations are most effective if you use them sparingly and keep them relatively short. Too many quotations in a research paper will get you accused of not producing original thought or material (they may also bore a reader who wants to know primarily what YOU have to say on the subject).

Indirect Quotations

Indirect quotations are not exact wordings but rather rephrasings or summaries of another person's words. In this case, it is not necessary to use quotation marks. However, indirect quotations still require proper citations, and you will be committing plagiarism if you fail to do so.

Mr. Johnson, a local farmer, reported last night that he saw an alien spaceship on his own property.

Many writers struggle with when to use direct quotations versus indirect quotations. Use the following tips to guide you in your choice.

Use direct quotations when the source material uses language that is particularly striking or notable. Do not rob such language of its power by altering it.

Martin Luther King Jr. believed that the end of slavery was important and of great hope to millions of slaves done horribly wrong.

The above should never stand in for:

Martin Luther King Jr. said of the Emancipation Proclamation, "This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice."

Use an indirect quotation (or paraphrase) when you merely need to summarize key incidents or details of the text.

Use direct quotations when the author you are quoting has coined a term unique to her or his research and relevant within your own paper.

When to use direct quotes versus indirect quotes is ultimately a choice you'll learn a feeling for with experience. However, always try to have a sense for why you've chosen your quote. In other words, never put quotes in your paper simply because your teacher says, "You must use quotes."

Source:, modified by Rebecca Oberg

Using Quotation Marks: Your Guide to Dialogue

Offering a format of quick, helpful tips followed with relevant examples, this slide show presentation provides a much-needed guide to dialogue and quotation mark use in writing. The presentation boils down a very big topic into a few key concepts.


Your Turn: A Quick Review and Practice Sentences

Now it's your turn! Flip through this slide show presentation for a fast review of quotation basics, then try to punctuate these sample sentences using the rules you've learned. Good luck!

Source: See slide show presentation for citation.

Quotation Marks: Double Vs. Single

How to Use Double Quotation Marks

First, there are other legitimate uses for quotation marks besides surrounding direct quotations or spoken words. Double quotation marks are often used around titles, as in the titles of two of my favorite Dr. Seuss books: “Green Eggs And Ham” and “If I Ran The Zoo.” In some cases you can use italics for titles instead of quotation marks.

Double quotation marks can also be used to indicate that a word is special in some way. I bet you've all seen quotation marks used as something called scare quotes, which are quotation marks put around a word to show that the writer doesn't buy into the meaning. For example, I could write the sentence: Women achieved “equality” when they were granted the right to vote in 1920. This would indicate that although women getting the right to vote was heralded as equality at the time, I don't think it was enough of a gain to merit the word equality. More often though, scare quotes (which are also sometimes called sneer quotes) are used to impart a sense of irony or disdain. They're especially common in nasty political commentary, as in Politicians “care” about their constituents*.

Double quotation marks can also be used when you are writing a sentence and you want to refer to a word rather than use its meaning. This comes up in almost every Grammar Girl episode, and I previously used quotation marks in this way; but it's a style issue and you can also use italics to call out the word. So, I decided to change the Grammar Girl style and use italics instead of quotes because I thought it would look cleaner, and I went back and edited 21 old episode transcripts. After that folly, my wrists hurt and I vowed never to change a style again!

When to Use Single Quotation Marks

So, the question is still out there: When do you use single quotation marks? The most common use is when you are quoting someone who is quoting someone else. You enclose the primary speaker's comments in double quotation marks, and then you enclose the thing they are quoting in single quotation marks. For example, imagine you've interviewed the aardvark for a magazine article about his harrowing ordeal with the arrow, and he said, “Squiggly saved my life when he said, 'Hang in there, aardvark.'” You would write that as, “Squiggly saved my life when he said, 'Hang in there, aardvark.'” And, if you're ever in the extremely rare position of having to nest another quote inside a sentence like that, you would use double quotation marks again for the quote inside of the single quotation marks.

And finally, a couple of other uses for single quotation marks are using them when there's a quote in a headline**, and using them to highlight words with special meaning in certain disciplines such as philosophy, theology, and linguistics.

Quote Versus Quotation

Also, Katherine at Clark College asked me to point out the difference between the words quote and quotation. Quote is a verb that means to repeat what someone else has said or written. For example, "The aardvark quoted Squiggly." Quotation is noun used to describe what you are quoting, as in "Squiggly's quotation was inspiring."

It's common to hear people use the noun quote as a shortened form of quotation, as in "I filled my notebook with quotes from The Daily Show," but this is technically wrong. It should be, "I filled my notebook with quotations from The Daily Show." Now, I agree the correct way sounds kind of pretentious, and given that a lot of reference sources have extra entries discussing how the misuse is widespread, you aren't going to sound illiterate if you use quote incorrectly, but it is still really good to know the difference.

What About Quotes in Article Titles and More?

Beyond dialogue, quotes are also used as markers for article titles and more. Here's a quick, helpful guide for doing this correctly. For using quotation marks with book titles and other sources, see

Source: YouTube