How to Use Quotation Marks

Stacie Heaps
Professional Writer and Editor

Quotation marks are always used in pairs—one at the beginning of the quotation, and one at the end.


I believe he asked, “Where is Beauford Boulevard?”

“Unforgettable” is one of my all-time favorite classic songs.

Direct Quotations

A direct quotation is a quotation in which a writer is quoting someone else word for word. In direct quotations, quotation marks are used, and the words should exactly match the original text.


Couldn’t you just say, “All’s well that ends well”?

Have you heard the saying, “ ’Tis better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all”?

I believe he said that “the harder I work, the further behind I seem to get.”

Indirect Quotations

Indirect quotations, on the other hand, relate something that has been previously written or spoken but that is not quoted word for word. Unlike direct quotations, indirect quotes are not enclosed in quotation marks.


Last week my manager said that I should take time off if I needed it.

When you said that the project was a no-brainer, what did you mean?

Punctuation Introducing a Quotation

If a quoted word or phrase fits into the flow of your sentence without a break or pause, then a comma may not be necessary:


The phrase “sleep tight” used to have a literal meaning.

What do you mean you’ll “never see them again”?

If the quote follows a form of to say (or similar expression), however, you will almost always need a comma to introduce it.


When I was young my grandmother used to say, “Don’t worry about the little things, and all things are little.”

In his report, the director declared, “The best way to decrease our overhead is to advertise more effectively.”

When a quotation is interrupted by explanatory or other information, then a comma both precedes and follows the intervening text.


“For more than 30 years,” Mr. Truman related, “I have watched this company grow and mature.”

“Before this year is through,” John promised emphatically, “we will be more than doubling our staff.”

If the quoted material follows an independent clause or a phrase such as the following, if the context is very formal, or if the quotation is more than one sentence long, generally use a colon to set off the quoted text.


When my manager talked to me she was furious: “If you miss another day of work without calling in, you’ll be fired.” (Introduced by an independent clause.)

Every day my mother quoted the same line: “All the world’s a stage.”

The president made the following statement: “This year, all employees will receive an extra week of vacation.” (Introduced by “the following.”)

The report stated: “Based on these findings, the likelihood that any of the current candidates will gain wide voter support does not appear likely.” (Formal context)

My boss said: “We have a mandatory meeting every Monday. Please arrive by 8 a.m. sharp. The meeting will generally last about an hour.” (Quote is longer than one sentence.)

Quotation within a Quotation

When a quotation is contained within another quotation, the quotation within a quotation is set off by single quotations marks. If quoted material is included within that quotation, then double quotations are used to enclose it, and single quotations are used within that if another set is required. Continue alternating double and single quotation marks as needed.


I seem to remember that he said, “When I was talking to Mary, she told me to ‘get it done,’ no matter the consequences.”

John said, “According to the author, ‘The more we try to “merely ‘get away’ instead of getting ahead,” the more we will simply get behind.’ And that’s not getting anywhere at all.”

When both the double quotation mark and the single quotation mark come at the beginning or end of the phrase or sentence, a space (or a half space) should separate the two marks so that they can be seen more easily. (Unfortunately, word processors may enter the final closing quotation mark the wrong way when following this practice, so to get around this if you need to, type both the single and double quotation marks, and then go back and put a space between them.)


“ ‘There’s no place like home,’ even though I love to travel,” John declared.

When you said, “My favorite passage is ‘I took the road less traveled by,’ ” to what were you referring?

Quotation Marks with Other Punctuation

For quotations that end with a period, the final quotation mark should come after the end punctuation mark, not before.


He just said that I should “do the best I can with what I have”.

Yesterday George declared, “I know times are tough, so just make the most of it”.


He just said that I should “do the best I can with what I have.”

Yesterday George declared, “I know times are tough, so just make the most of it.”

Commas likewise precede the closing quotation mark when they come at the end of the quoted material.


“You’re the boss,” I said.

“Measure twice; cut once,” Mark declared.

“She was the best friend I ever had,” Nate said.

Semicolons and colons, on the other hand, always go outside the closing quotation mark.


One of my favorite poems is “The Road Not Taken”: Like the speaker in the poem, I’ve taken the road less traveled by.

Please read the section entitled “Taking Care of You”; there will be a quiz on that section on Monday.

Finally, question marks and exclamation points go outside quotation marks only if the entire sentence is a question or exclamation, rather than just the quoted text. Dashes, though not as common, follow the same rule.


I wish you had heard him say that “every player on the team was born to lose”!

Have you ever read the short story “The Bracelet”?

That song—I believe it’s called “Hotel California”—is a classic.

Otherwise, they go inside.


“Where would you like to go?” he asked.

“Watch out!” the man shouted.

“What will we do if—” Walt started to ask.

Suddenly she exclaimed, “This is the best food I’ve ever tasted!”

Aloud Jack wondered, “Could this really be happening to me?”

As illustrated in the first three examples above, no comma is used after a question mark, exclamation point, or dash before the closing quotation mark. In such cases, the end punctuation mark makes the comma unnecessary. Moreover, if the sentence ends with a quoted question or exclamation, as in the last two examples, the question mark or exclamation point is sufficient. No period is needed.

If a question ends with a quotation containing an exclamation mark, the exclamation mark will supersede the question mark and suffice to end the sentence, and vice versa.


Was it your brother who said, “Be true to yourself and forget the rest!”

I can’t believe he asked “Is there nothing more that can be done?”

Furthermore, a single question mark will adequately end a quoted question within a question:


Did you say, “What time is the meeting?”

Have you asked, “What will our compensation be?”

Longer Quotations

When quoted text or dialogue continues from one paragraph to another, an opening quotation mark precedes each new paragraph of quoted material, but the closing quotation mark is omitted until the end of the quoted text; a quotation mark should not appear at the end of the intervening paragraphs.


For her recitation, Marta quoted a humorous passage from one of her favorite novels:

“Mr. Collins had only to change from Jane to Elizabeth—and it was soon done—done while Mrs. Bennet was stirring the fire. Elizabeth, equally next to Jane in birth and beauty, succeeded her of course.

“Mrs. Bennet treasured up the hint, and trusted that she might soon have two daughters married; and the man whom she could not bear to speak of the day before was now high in her good graces.

“Lydia's intention of walking to Meryton was not forgotten; every sister except Mary agreed to go with her; and Mr. Collins was to attend them, at the request of Mr. Bennet, who was most anxious to get rid of him, and have his library to himself; for thither Mr. Collins had followed him after breakfast, and there he would continue, nominally engaged with one of the largest folios in the collection, but really talking to Mr. Bennet, with little cessation, of his house and garden at Hunsford. Such doings discomposed Mr. Bennet exceedingly. In his library he had been always sure of leisure and tranquility; and though prepared, as he told Elizabeth, to meet with folly and conceit in every other room in the house, he was used to be free from them there; his civility, therefore, was most prompt in inviting Mr. Collins to join his daughters in their walk; and Mr. Collins, being in fact much better fitted for a walker than a reader, was extremely well pleased to close his large book, and go.

“In pompous nothings on his side, and civil assents on that of his cousins, their time passed till they entered Meryton. The attention of the younger ones was then no longer to be gained by him. Their eyes were immediately wandering up in the street in quest of the officers, and nothing less than a very smart bonnet indeed, or a really new muslin in a shop window, could recall them.” (From Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice)

Using Brackets in Quotations

Brackets are sometimes used in a quotation to clarify or amplify the meaning. For example, brackets can be used to give the name of a person when the name is not given in the actual text that is being quoted, or they can be used to add a brief editorial explanation.


“On the other hand, if he [John] is determined to do it, then I guess we will have to let him,” she concurred.

Yesterday the company officially stated, “The director [Lex Michelson, the CEO’s son] will not be reporting for work until the issue has been resolved.”

In less formal contexts, brackets can even be used within a quotation to substitute someone else’s name or a different word or phrase, for examples, to make a passage more applicable or individually meaningful.


Janice Timber, the author, made an interesting point when she hypothesized that “tomorrow’s children [and their children, and their children, I believe] will know game characters in place of great literary heroes and video game plots in place of classic literature or music.”

For more information on brackets, see the article entitled “Parentheses and Brackets.”

Parenthetical Source Citations

In parenthetical documentation, the parenthetical citation follows the closing quotation mark of the quoted text, and the period follows the closing parenthesis of the citation.


According to the author, “Multiplying two by two does not necessarily equal four” (Smith, 47).

The writer emphatically states that “every environmental infraction is worth fighting” (Tyson, 284).

Titles of Literary Works, Songs, Chapters, and So Forth

Titles of songs, shorter works of fiction, poetry, and chapters or sections of books are generally enclosed in quotation marks to identify them.


His favorite song is “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

Have you ever read a story called “The Lottery”?

Before class on Friday, please read the section entitled “Man and the Moon” from your textbook.

I think Poe’s “The Raven” is my favorite poem.

Block Quotations

When a quoted passage is more than three lines long, a block quotation, rather than quotation marks, is often used. When forming a block quote, it is common to leave a blank line above and below the block text. In addition, the text is often indented from the left (and sometimes the right) margins.


One of the most interesting parts of the chapter is this one, which sheds light on Mr. Collins’s character:

His plan did not vary on seeing them.—Miss Bennet's lovely face confirmed his views, and established all his strictest notions of what was due to seniority; and for the first evening she was his settled choice. The next morning, however, made an alteration; for in a quarter of an hour's tête-à-tête with Mrs. Bennet before breakfast, a conversation beginning with his parsonage-house, and leading naturally to the avowal of his hopes that a mistress for it might be found at Longbourn, produced from her, amid very complaisant smiles and general encouragement, a caution against the very Jane he had fixed on. (From Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice)


When quoting poetry, two or more lines of text should be set off as a block quotation (see above). When quoting two lines of poetry, however, the lines can be run into the text, if necessary, to save space or to fit the context of the document. In run-in text, the lines of poetry d vare separated by a slash, and a space (or thin space, if typeset) should be inserted on either side of the slash.


Jared frequently quoted this passage from “The Highwayman”: “Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky, / With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!”

Speech and Dialogue

Dialogue, or discourse between individuals, is normally enclosed in quotation marks. A paragraph break designates a change in the speaker.


Marty said, “We’ll be there no later than three o’ clock.”

“Do you think that will be soon enough?” Nancy asked.

“It will have to be,” Marty replied.

Occasionally, dialogue by more than one speaker can be run into the same paragraph (for the purpose of saving space, for example). Also, as noted above, if dialogue by the same speaker continues from one paragraph to the next, only the opening quotation mark is needed for subsequent paragraphs until the dialogue ends.


Quotation marks are also occasionally used in place of italics to set off words that are followed by a definition. Italics are preferred in such contexts, but quotation marks might be helpful, for example, if italics are used within the same sentence or paragraph for another purpose (for emphasizing text or when including a foreign word, for instance).


In the director’s opinion, a layoff is “an opening of new opportunities.”

On el barco, the most important part is the hull, which is “the frame or body of the ship.”


Quotation marks can also be used to indicate a translation of a non-English word or phrase. (Parentheses are also sometimes used for this purpose, especially when comparing two foreign terms; see the article “Parentheses and Brackets.”)


My mother frequently told me que sera, sera—“what will be, will be.”

I believe that the word bête means “beast.”


If you want to mention someone’s nickname as part of his or her given name, put quotation marks around the nickname.


This is my new colleague, Jerry “Fix-It” Johnson.

Have you met our new secretary, Amanda “A. J.” Wheeler?

For information on epithets used in place of someone’s name (such as Babe Ruth or William the Conqueror), see the article “Capitalization.”


Familiar slang words or expressions should not be enclosed in quotation marks.


Mary wishes they wouldn’t always dis her ideas.

Dan’s computer just tanks when he tries to run too many apps.

However, if you think that readers will be totally unfamiliar with or confused by a particular slang word or expression, and you still feel that it is appropriate to use such a term in the context, then you might want to use quotation marks as a clue to the reader that the word or expression or the way that it is being used may be unfamiliar.


My friend said she likes her “hamburgers” well done.

Internal Dialogue

When treating internal dialogue, quotation marks are optional. They can be used, or not, depending on the writer’s preference.


I wonder why he did that? Jane asked herself.

This is the deal of a lifetime, Walt thought.


“I can’t believe my luck!” Dan thought to himself.

Maxims and Mottoes

Maxims, mottoes, proverbs, and similar expressions are generally enclosed within quotation marks.


The phrase “The early bird gets the worm” was her favorite saying.

The company motto, “All for one and all for all,” appeared on all their letterhead.

On the contrary, when paraphrasing rather than quoting a maxim, motto, or the like, do not use quotation marks.


I don’t believe that the early bird always gets the worm.

Word or Expression Differently Used Than Normal

Occasionally quotation marks are used as “scare quotes” to bring special attention to a particular word or phrase or to let the reader know that the word is being used differently than it normally would be, such as to suggest sarcasm or irony. This device should be used rarely—generally, sentence structure and word choice alone should suffice to emphasize the word or phrase.


That was a very “productive” visit, wasn’t it?

Well, after all of that, I’d definitely say he had some great “ideas.”


That wasn’t a very productive visit, was it?

Well, after all of that, I’d definitely say that his ideas weren’t too great.