When To Use Quotation Marks In An Essay

Quotation Marks with Fiction, Poetry, and Titles

Summary:

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

Contributors:Sean M. Conrey, Mark Pepper, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2016-02-27 11:17:45

Block Quotations

Check your citation style guide for specific guidelines on when you should use block quotations. Typically, you should use a block quotation when the quotation extends more than four typed lines (in MLA style) or extends 40 words or longer (in APA style). 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:

  • Titles of short or minor works
  • Songs
  • Short Stories
  • Essays
  • 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.

We do not enclose indirect quotations in quotation marks. An indirect quotation reports what someone says but not in the exact, original language. Indirect quotations are not heard in the same way that quoted language is heard.

  • The President said that NAFTA would eventually be a boon to small businesses in both countries.
  • Professor Villa told her students the textbooks were not yet in the bookstore.

Double Punctuation with Quotations

Occasionally — very occasionally, we hope — we come across a sentence that seems to demand one kind of punctuation mark within quotation marks and another kind of punctuation mark outside the quotation marks. A kind of pecking order of punctuation marks takes over: other marks are stronger than a period and an exclamation mark is usually stronger than a question mark. If a statement ends in a quoted question, allow the question mark within the quotation marks suffice to end the sentence.

  • Malcolm X had the courage to ask the younger generation of American blacks, "What did we do, who preceded you?"

On the other hand, if a question ends with a quoted statement that is not a question, the question mark will go outside the closing quotation mark.

  • Who said, "Fame means when your computer modem is broken, the repair guy comes out to your house a little faster"?

If a question ends with a quotation containing an exclamation mark, the exclamation mark will supersede the question and suffice to end the sentence.

  • Wasn't it Malcolm X who declared, "Why, that's the most hypocritical government since the world began!"

A single question mark will suffice to end a quoted question within a question:

  • "Didn't he ask, 'What did we do, who preceded you?'" queried Johnson.

Single Quotation Marks

In the United States, we use single quotation marks [ ‘ ’ ] to enclose quoted material (or the titles of poems, stories, articles) within other quoted material:

  • "'Design' is my favorite poem," he said.
  • "Did she ask, 'What's going on?'"
  • Ralph Ellison recalls the Golden Age of Jazz this way: "It was itself a texture of fragments, repetitive, nervous, not fully formed; its melodic lines underground, secret and taunting; its riffs jeering—'Salt peanuts! Salt peanuts!'"

British practice, again, is quite different. In fact, single-quote marks and double-quote marks are apt to be reversed in usage. Instructors in the U.S. should probably take this into account when reading papers submitted by students who have gone to school in other parts of the globe.

In newspapers, single quotation marks are used in headlines where double quotation marks would otherwise appear.

In some fields, key terms may be set apart with single-quote marks. In such cases, periods and commas go outside the single-quote marks:

  • Sartre's treatment of 'being', as opposed to his treatment of 'non-being', has been thoroughly described in Kaufmann's book.

When the term is case-sensitive, capitalization remains unchanged despite placement in the sentence.

  • 'tx_send' determines whether the signal will be output through TX Output Port.
  • If the constant REG_RESET is set, then resets will be registered.
period || question mark || exclamation mark || colon || semicolon || hyphen || dash
parentheses || brackets || ellipsis || apostrophe || comma || slash

*There are peculiar typographical reasons why the period and comma go inside the quotation mark in the United States. The following explanation comes from the "Frequently Asked Questions" file of alt.english.usage: "In the days when printing used raised bits of metal, "." and "," were the most delicate, and were in danger of damage (the face of the piece of type might break off from the body, or be bent or dented from above) if they had a '"' on one side and a blank space on the other. Hence the convention arose of always using '."' and ',"' rather than '".' and '",', regardless of logic." This seems to be an argument to return to something more logical, but there is little impetus to do so within the United States.

 

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