Quotation Marks – Definition and Uses with Examples

Quotation Marks – Definition and Uses with Examples

Hello there! I am sure you agree with me that learning is progressive. In this post I have titled Quotation Marks – Definition and Uses with Examples, I want to show you what a quotation mark is and the various uses to which you can put it. Here we go…

Quotation Marks – Definition and Uses with Examples

In considering this important punctuation mark that gives meaning and clarity to our writing, we shall begin by describing this mark, see another name it goes by and finally consider its various functions. Shall we?

What are Quotation Marks?

This is another important punctuation mark in English which we also refer to as quotes or quote marks. We can also describe quotation marks as inverted commas.  This punctuation mark helps to identify quotation and it can occur either in the double (” “) or the single (‘ ‘) form. However, irrespective of the one that we decide to use, consistency is very important.

We use this mark around titles, quotations and direct speech; that is, to mark off direct speech and material quoted from other sources. Slang and special-sense words and titles of short written works such as poems, articles, short stories, songs, etc. are also often set off by quotation marks.

Uses of Quotation Marks

There are quite some numbers of the uses of quotation marks. Let us look at some of these uses…

To Enclose Direct Speech and Quotation

Words and expressions spoken directly, that is, actual speech or conversation are enclosed by quotation marks. See the following examples:

  • “I believe you will be at the party.” He said.
  • The lawyer said: “The case is far from over, and we will win.”
  • “Why”, she demanded, “don’t you think it is unfair?”
  • Saying “go after the armed robbers” was a grave mistake.
  • The principal asked, “Will you be able to take part in the games?”           
  • “Where are you?” He called out.
  • Mae West said: “A man in the house is worth two in the street.”
  • “Have you tried on any of the new shoes yet?” Fiona asked.
  • “I’ve already done that.” Sam replied.

Quotation Marks with Quoted Material

When words are taken directly from another writer or speaker, there must be an indication to that effect either by quotation marks or by some other orthographical devices.

Writers include short quotation (phrases or simple sentences) within a paragraph; they either weave it into the structure of the sentence or make it to stand by itself.

Let us see some examples:

  • While commenting on the futility of the pursuit of material possessions, the Preacher was reported to have said, “Vanities of vanities, all is vanity”.
  • The position of the humanitarian organisation is in tandem which the golden rule which says: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you”.

When it comes to long quotations – more than one full sentence from the original source or spanning more than three lines (several lines) in your paper – we usually indent them and type them with a single line space but without quotation marks.

A Quotation Within a Quotation

For a quotation within a quotation, we use a single inverted comma for the first quotation and double marks for the second quotation within a quotation. For example:

  • The officer said: ‘I charge you to “arise o compatriots” for the welfare of Nigeria’.

Another accepted rule is that where one piece of direct speech occurs within another, or within a quotation, we use quotation marks of the opposite type. For example:

  • She said, “I told him to leave and he asked ‘Why should I?'”
  • Professor Flynn began with, “Even if you’ve never read a word of Shakespeare, I’m sure you’ve heard ‘To be or not to be’ a thousand times.”
  • She still sounds amazed when she says: ‘We were turned down because “we represented too small a minority of the population”. They could still get away with saying things like that then.’
  • The Labour Congress declared “Describing the proposed wage as ‘too high’ is an insult to the people.”
  • The Labour Congress declared ‘Describing the proposed wage as “too high” is an insult to the people.’

Quotation Marks Around Titles

We also use quotation marks to set off the titles of songs, poems, short stories, essays and magazines or journal articles. Let us consider some examples:

  • William Wordsworth’s poem, “The World is too much with us” is a classic.
  • Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” sold millions of copies.
  • “Alice in the Wonderland” catches the fancy of children.
  • Tom Cruise’s movie, “Mission Impossible: The Fallout” is a blockbuster.
  • “The New York Times” is now a dollar.
  • Hilaire Belloc’s poem “On a Sundial,” is interesting


It is important to note that, conventionally, titles of novels, plays, films, etc., are printed in italics instead of being quoted.

Ordering Quotations

It is not impossible that quotation marks can appear with other punctuation marks such as question marks, exclamation marks, colon, semicolon, full stops and commas.  Whether we place these punctuation marks inside or outside the quotation marks depends on whether they are part of the quoted text or not. We place the comma inside the quotation marks except when the reporting verb is positioned inside a reported sentence that itself does not require a comma. Consider these examples:

  • ‘There is’, the Preacher said, ‘nothing new under the sun.’
  • Did he say “get out! Fools”?
  • Yes, he even added “What will you do?”
  • “Apolitical”, in general, means “not interested or concerned with politics”.
  • The title of the track was “He raised me up”, which now governs the airwaves.
  • The boy confessed “I slapped him because he tells lies”.

Style and Position of Quotation Marks

The position of quotation marks in American English differs from its position in British English. In British English, the usual style is to use single quotation marks, while any associated punctuation is placed outside the closing quotation mark. One usually finds an expression like this:

  • He affirmed “it is finished”.
  • Their new single is called ‘Curtain Falls’.
  • What does ‘integrated circuit’ mean?

In American English, the rule is to use double quotation marks for direct speech. Any associated punctuation is placed inside the closing quotation mark. Consider these examples:

  • He affirmed “it is finished.”
  • “Where will you get that type of material?” the boss asked.
  • He called the phenomenon “a flash of genius.”
  • Next, a hollow spout, known as a “feeder tube,” is placed in the hole.

To Make a Word or Phrase Stand Out

Quotation marks give special emphasis to a word or phrase.  We use quotation marks to make a particular word or phrase stand out from the surrounding text; usually, to draw attention to it or because the writer might be using it self-consciously or sceptically. For instance:

  • Compound words such as “toothbrush” and “red currant”; in a more “family-friendly” environment.
  • The word ‘book’ can be used as a noun or a verb.

To Indicate an Unusual Use of a Word

When a writer uses a word in an unusual way, they use the quotation mark. For instance:

  • He admitted that websites used for internet voting could be ‘spoofed’.
  • Get all you can and ‘can’ all you get.
  • He asked Jane to ‘Xenderise’ some of apps on her phone to his phone.
  • The officer insisted that he wanted no ‘buts’.
  • He bellowed to his wife: “Don’t ‘woman’ me this morning”.

A Way of Distancing Oneself from a Word

Sometimes, when writers wish to distance themselves from a word, they make use of the quotation marks in doing so. For example:

  • We do not agree with this ‘euthanasia’ construct.
  • What is all this furore about ‘minimum wage’ when what we need is living wage?
  • The so-called ‘amen’ churches do not exist anymore.

What Sets off a Quotation

There is an important point we need to note here. Let us see it. When it comes to what actually sets off a quotation, it is nothing other than quotation marks. But Larry Trask, in his opinion on what sets off a quotation, has something interesting to say which I would like to share with you using his own words.

A sentence containing a quotation is punctuated exactly like any other sentence apart from the addition of the quotation marks. You should not insert additional punctuation marks into the sentence merely to warn the reader that a quotation is coming up: that’s what the quotation marks are for.

He gave three examples to explain his point. He referred to the first two as ‘bad style’ and the third as ‘wrong’. Here are they:

  • *President Nixon declared, “I am not a crook.”
  • *He declared: “I am not a crook.”
  • *President Nixon declared:- “I am not a crook.”

Trask explained further that “the comma and the colon in the first two are completely pointless, while the startling arsenal of punctuation in the third is grotesque. (Remember, a hyphen or a dash does not follow a colon)”. He gave a proper punctuation of his given example thus:

  • President Nixon declared “I am not a crook.”

“Adding more dots and squiggles to this perfectly clear sentence would do absolutely nothing to improve it. No punctuation mark should be used if it is not necessary.” Trask concluded.

Quotation Marks with Other Punctuation Marks

Despite the submission above, are we saying we cannot use other punctuation marks with a quotation mark? I hinted on this above under the heading ‘ordering quotation’. But Larry Trask himself (I found his explanation interesting) has this to say on the matter: “the presence of quotation marks does not remove the necessity of using other punctuation which is required for independent reasons.”

He explained his point with these examples:

  • According to Thomas Edison, “Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.”
  • “The only emperor”, writes Wallace Stevens, “is the emperor of ice cream.”

Here is his comment on the examples: “The commas here are bracketing commas, used as usual to set off weak interruptions; their presence has nothing to do with the presence of a quotation, which is itself properly marked off by the quotation marks.”

He gave further examples:

  • Mae West had one golden rule for handling men: “Tell the pretty ones they’re smart, and tell the smart ones they’re pretty.” [sic]

He explained that the example did not use colon just because a quotation followed it; rather, it was performing the role of a colon which is to introduce an explanation of what precedes the colon and that it was a coincidence that what came after the colon happened to be a quotation.

Quotation Marks and Capitalisation

When we use the quotation marks, does the content begins with a capital letter or a small letter? Have you thought of this question? The answer is simple!

The quotation enclosed by the quotation marks starts with a capital letter if it is a complete sentence. If it is not a complete sentence, it begins with a small letter. Let us illustrate this with the Edison’s example:

  • According to Thomas Edison, “Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.”
  • Thomas Edison declared that genius was “one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration”.

If you look at the first sentence, the quotation is a complete sentence and, naturally, starts with a capital letter while the quotation in the second sentence is not a complete sentence and, consequently, does not begin with a capital letter.

Final Words

This punctuation mark, which we have considered in this post tagged Quotation Marks – Definition and Uses with Examples has offered so much insight just like we saw in the most versatile punctuation mark in English, the comma! I am certain you have gained some useful knowledge.

You can check out other punctuation marks that I have also put together for your reading pleasure. Do not forget to share this knowledge and connect with us on our Social Media platforms. It is just a click away. See you around.

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