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 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.
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.
4. If a direct quotation is interrupted mid-sentence, do not capitalize the second part of the quotation.
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.
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 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.
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.
The above should never stand in for:
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."
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.
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.
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.
If the context of your quote might be unclear, you may add a few words to provide clarity. Enclose the added material in brackets.
Quotations within a Quotation
Use single quotation marks to enclose quotes within another quotation.
Quotation Marks Beyond Quoting
Quotation marks may additionally be used to indicate words used ironically or with some reservation.
Do not use quotation marks for words used as words themselves. In this case, you should use italics.
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.
Put commas and periods within quotation marks, except when a parenthetical reference follows.
Place colons and semicolons outside closed quotation marks.
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.
Quotation Marks with Fiction, Poetry, and Titles
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)
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.
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.
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:
- Titles of short or minor works
- Short Stories
- Short Poems
- One Act Plays
- Other literary works shorter than a three act play or complete book
- Titles of sections from longer works
- Chapters in books
- Articles in newspapers, magazines, or journals
- Episodes of television and radio series
Underlining or italics are used for the titles of long pieces or works that contain smaller sections.
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.
- Mary is trying hard in school this semester, her father said.
- No, the taxi driver said curtly, I cannot get you to the airport in fifteen minutes.
- 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.
- My French professor told me that my accent is abominable.
- She asked, Is Time a magazine you read regularly?
- 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.
- When did Roosevelt say, We have nothing to fear but fear itself?
- Yesterday, John said, This afternoon I'll bring back your book Conflict in the Middle East; however, he did not return it.
- Can you believe, Dot asked me, that it has been almost five years since we've seen each other?
- A Perfect Day for Bananafish is, I believe, J. D. Salinger's best short story.
- Certainly, Mr. Martin said, I shall explain the whole situation to him. I know that he will understand.
Quotation Mark Exercise Answers
- "Mary is trying hard in school this semester," her father said.
- "No," the taxi driver said curtly, "I cannot get you to the airport in fifteen minutes."
- "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."
- My French professor told me that my accent is abominable.
- She asked, "Is Time a magazine you read regularly?"
- 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."
- When did Roosevelt say, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself"?
- Yesterday, John said, "This afternoon I'll bring back your book Conflict in the Middle East"; however, he did not return it.
- "Can you believe," Dot asked me, "that it has been almost five years since we've seen each other?"
- "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" is, I believe, J. D. Salinger's best short story.
- "Certainly," Mr. Martin said, "I shall explain the whole situation to him. I know that he will understand."