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The Proper Use of Quotation Marks

Everything you need to know about using quotation marks

Who knew formatting quotation marks was so complicated? They seem relatively easy to use and self-explanatory, but the formatting of these little English language punctuation marks varies from country to country and is sometimes even governed by the conventions of genre.

It turns out that quotation marks are the wily and feral children of the writing world. In order to help you navigate their subtle nuances and unpredictability, has compiled a list of rules to help you properly format quotation marks.

1. Single or double?

All of life's important decisions seem to come down to this very question (hotel rooms, ice cream, scotch) and it is no different for quotation marks. Whether to use single or double quotation marks is the number one problem we encounter when editing documents.

This entirely depends on what country you're writing in. In Canadian and American writing, double quotation marks are used. In British and Australian writing, single quotation marks are used. Sometimes, professors don't care whether you use single quotation marks or double. If this is the case, then default to whatever you're most comfortable with, but take care to be consistent.

2. Punctuation

Punctuation usage is another issue we deal with in the documents we edit, and once again the proper form is dependent on what country you are writing in. American and Canadian usage places full stops inside the quotation marks. British and Australian usage is dependent on the context of the sentence.

If the punctuation mark is part of the actual quotation, then it goes inside the quotation marks. In most other circumstances, the punctuation marks go outside the quotation marks. 

3. Nesting

What do you do when you need to quote something within a quotation? This question has plagued writers for generations. The placement of quotation marks within quotation marks is technically referred to as nesting. The correct format is, shockingly, related to what country you are writing in.

In American and Canadian usage, where double quotation marks are used, quoting within a quotation (or nesting) requires single quotation marks. If following British or Australian rules, where single quotation marks are used, use double quotation marks when nesting. Astute readers might ask about a quotation within a quotation within a quotation. In that extremely rare circumstance, our advice is to rephrase the sentence.

4. Spacing

The general rule is that one should not put a space between the quotation mark and the word that follows, or put a space between the last word and the closing quotation mark.

The only exception to this is when you are dealing with nesting. When you are dealing with a nested quotation at the beginning or end of a quotation, you are required to put a space between the nested quotation mark and the primary quotation mark.

5. Genre

This is an issue we do not encounter very often, but it should be explained. Usually, the genre you're writing in does not affect the placement of punctuation in relation to quotation marks. However, British and Australian publishers of non-fiction (primarily journalism) allow for the placement of punctuation marks within quotation marks if those punctuation marks are part of the person's speech.


So there you have it—our pithy and succinct guide to quotation marks. If you're confused or still have questions about whether you are properly formatting quotation marks, then don't fret. Just forward your document to our English academic editors and we'll make sure your quotations are quoted properly, and in case you were wondering, you can quote us on that.



Image source: Ferdinand Stöhr/

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