Single or Double: Using Quotation Mark Correctly

Quotation Marks Challenge

ESL students often find quotation marks puzzling because they make English punctuation even more complicated. As if it was not enough, there are two types of quotation marks in English: single and double. So how do you know which ones to use? Moreover, how do you know when to use any quotation marks at all? If you have many questions about quotation marks, there’s no reason to be embarrassed since even experienced English writers find this aspect of punctuation tricky.

Double or Single?

There is no straightforward answer to the question “Which quotation marks should be used: double or single?” In fact, the choice largely depends on which country you are in. For example, in the UK and Australia, they prefer single quotation marks, while the other variant is more common for North American English.

Nevertheless, you shouldn’t rely on this rule of a thumb when handing in an article to publishers because each of them is allowed to follow their own precedents. Even more than that: some writers develop a personal quotation marks system, such as using single quotations for thoughts and double quotations for dialogues. The only universal rule in this case is ensuring uniformity, e.g.: “Good evening,” said Nicole, or “Hi Jane,” said Mary.

A Common Mistake

One common mistake ESL students make is using quotation marks incorrectly. If they are the only sign of a quote that is more than one paragraph long, a new opening quote should appear at the beginning of every paragraph.

Which Ones Should Be Used for Quotes within Quotes?

To start with, a writer has to choose which quotation mark will be signaling the beginning of the first quote. In case this is a double quotation mark, use single quotation to indicate a quote within a quote and vice versa. See the example below:

"He said 'No way!' and left the room," Mary cried.

"Why would anyone call this thing ‘food’?" 

Which Quotation Marks Do I use for Block Quotations?

This one is easy: block quotations do not require quotation marks. Instead, a block quote has to be either indented or put in a different (usually smaller) font. However, you do need to use quotation marks for quotes within a block quote. Normally, each formatting style has its own requirements, so be sure to check them before writing your paper.

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Do Specialized Terms Require Quotation Marks?

In linguistic, philosophic, theological, and many other fields of specialized writing, you will frequently come across quotation marks used to designate some very specific terms, for example:

‘Gutter’ is the inner margin of a book.

‘Cultivar’ is a less popular word for what is known as ‘clone.’

However, take care not to overuse these small punctuation marks since they may distract the reader. Including quotation marks is not essential unless it is required by some specific rules, such as using them for horticultural cultivars, e.g.:

“Chardonnay” is one of the best grapes used in wine production.

A Final Word

Although quotation marks are important, make sure you do not overuse them in your text. If you find this plethora of rules confusing, consider using the services of professional editors and writers.


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