OWL at Purdue Logo

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/). When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice at bottom.

Contributors:Sean M. Conrey, Mark Pepper, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

A rundown of the general rules of when and where to use quotation marks.

How to Use Quotation Marks

Using 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 extraterestials [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 commiting 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."

Contributors:Sean M. Conrey, Mark Pepper, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

A rundown of the general rules of when and where to use quotation marks.

Extended Rules for Using Quotation Marks

Altering the Source Material in a Quotation

The responsibility of representing other people's words accurately lies firmly on the shoulders of the author. Inaccurate quotes not only defeat the purpose of using a quote, they may also constitute plagiarism. However, there are approved methods for altering quotes for either clarity or succinctness.

Quote length

If the original quote is too long and you feel not all the words are necessary in your own paper, you may omit part of the quote. Replace the missing words with an ellipsis.

Original Quote: The quarterback told the reporter, "It's quite simple. They played a better game, scored more points, and that's why we lost."
Omitted Material: The quarterback told the reporter, "It's quite simple. They . . . scored more points, and that's why we lost."

Make sure that the words you remove do not alter the basic meaning of the original quote in any way. Also ensure that the quote's integration and missing material still leave a grammatically correct sentence.

Quote context

If the context of your quote might be unclear, you may add a few words to provide clarity. Enclose the added material in brackets.

Added Material: The quarterback told the reporter, "It's quite simple. They [the other team] played a better game, scored more points, and that's why we lost."

Quotations within a Quotation

Use single quotation marks to enclose quotes within another quotation.

The reporter told me, "When I interviewed the quarterback, he said they simply 'played a better game.'"

Quotation Marks Beyond Quoting

Quotation marks may additionally be used to indicate words used ironically or with some reservation.

The great march of "progress" has left millions impoverished and hungry.

Do not use quotation marks for words used as words themselves. In this case, you should use italics.

The English word nuance comes from a Middle French word meaning "shades of color."
Contributors:Sean M. Conrey, Mark Pepper, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

A rundown of the general rules of when and where to use quotation marks.

Additional Punctuation Rules when Using Quotation Marks

Use a comma to introduce a quotation after a standard dialogue tag, a brief introductory phrase, or a dependent clause.

The detective said, "I am sure who performed the murder."
As D.H. Nachas explains, "The gestures used for greeting others differ greatly from one culture to another."

Put commas and periods within quotation marks, except when a parenthetical reference follows.

He said, "I may forget your name, but I never forget a face."
History is stained with blood spilled in the name of "civilization."
Mullen, criticizing the apparent inaction, writes, "Donahue's policy was to do nothing" (24).

Place colons and semicolons outside closed quotation marks.

Williams described the experiment as "a definitive step forward"; other scientists disagreed.
Benedetto emphasizes three elements of what she calls her "Olympic journey": family support, personal commitment, and great coaching.

Place a question mark or exclamation point within closing quotation marks if the punctuation applies to the quotation itself. Place the punctuation outside the closing quotation marks if the punctuation applies to the whole sentence.

Phillip asked, "Do you need this book?"
Does Dr. Lim always say to her students, "You must work harder"?
Contributors:Sean M. Conrey, Mark Pepper, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

A rundown of the general rules of when and where to use quotation marks.

Quotation Marks with Fiction, Poetry, and Titles

Block Quotations

You should use a block quotation when the quotation extends more than four typed lines on the page. Although they are allowed in any type of writing, you will likely most often use them when quoting from fiction or literature. A block quotation is removed from the main body of your text. Indent one inch from the main margin (the equivalent of two half-inch paragraph indentations) and begin your quote. Maintain double spacing throughout, but you do not need to use quotation marks.

Gatsby experiences a moment of clarity while standing with Daisy on his dock. Fitzgerald writes:

Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now to him vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one. (98)

Quoting Poetry

When you quote a single line of poetry, write it like any other short quotation. If the piece of poetry you are quoting crosses multiple lines of the poem itself, you may still type them in your text run together. Show the reader where the poem's line breaks fall by using slash marks.

In his poem, "Mending Wall," Robert Frost writes: "Something there is that doesn't love a wall,/ that send the frozen-ground-swell under it" (42-44).

If the quotation is three lines or longer, set it off like a block quotation (see above). Some writers prefer to set off two-line verse quotations for emphasis. Quote the poem line by line as it appears on the original page. Do not use quotation marks, and indent one inch from the left margin.

In his poem "Mending Wall," Robert Frost questions the building of barriers and walls:

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

Writing Dialogue

Write each person's spoken words, however brief, as a separate paragraph. Use commas to set off dialogue tags such as "she said" or "he explained." If one person's speech goes on for more than one paragraph, use quotation marks to open the dialogue at the beginning of each paragraph. However, do not use closing quotation marks until the end of the final paragraph where that character is speaking.

Quotation Marks with Titles

Use quotations marks for:

Underlining or italics are used for the titles of long pieces or works that contain smaller sections.

Contributors:Sean M. Conrey, Mark Pepper, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

A rundown of the general rules of when and where to use quotation marks.

Quotation Mark Exercise and Answers

Quotation Mark Exercise

In the following sentences put in quotation marks wherever they are needed, and underline words where italics are needed.

  1. Mary is trying hard in school this semester, her father said.

  2. No, the taxi driver said curtly, I cannot get you to the airport in fifteen minutes.

  3. I believe, Jack remarked, that the best time of year to visit Europe is in the spring. At least that's what I read in a book entitled Guide to Europe.

  4. My French professor told me that my accent is abominable.

  5. She asked, Is Time a magazine you read regularly?

  6. Flannery O'Connor probably got the title of one of her stories from the words of the old popular song, A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

  7. When did Roosevelt say, We have nothing to fear but fear itself?
  8. Yesterday, John said, This afternoon I'll bring back your book Conflict in the Middle East; however, he did not return it.

  9. Can you believe, Dot asked me, that it has been almost five years since we've seen each other?

  10. A Perfect Day for Bananafish is, I believe, J. D. Salinger's best short story.

  11. Certainly, Mr. Martin said, I shall explain the whole situation to him. I know that he will understand.

Quotation Mark Exercise Answers

  1. "Mary is trying hard in school this semester," her father said.

  2. "No," the taxi driver said curtly, "I cannot get you to the airport in fifteen minutes."

  3. "I believe," Jack remarked, "that the best time of year to visit Europe is in the spring. At least that's what I read in a book entitled Guide to Europe."

  4. My French professor told me that my accent is abominable.

  5. She asked, "Is Time a magazine you read regularly?"

  6. Flannery O'Connor probably got the title of one of her stories from the words of the old popular song, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find."

  7. When did Roosevelt say, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself"?
  8. Yesterday, John said, "This afternoon I'll bring back your book Conflict in the Middle East"; however, he did not return it.
  9. "Can you believe," Dot asked me, "that it has been almost five years since we've seen each other?"

  10. "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" is, I believe, J. D. Salinger's best short story.

  11. "Certainly," Mr. Martin said, "I shall explain the whole situation to him. I know that he will understand."