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Quotation Marks

In this age of “air quotes” around “words,” it can be hard to “know when” to use them properly. Don’t let this happen to you.


  • My dog barked, “Hey, as if he were trying to tell us something.”
  • Joe asked, Why not “buy some apples for dessert”?
  • To “bee or not to bee,” mused the queen of the hive.


Quotation marks belong in pairs around very specific sets of words: direct speech (“Why not buy some apples for dessert?”), phrases, or (quite logically) quotations (“to bee or not to bee”). We often forget to close the quotation marks, and simply keep writing as if the quoted segment continues. An entire quoted phrase, including its original punctuation, needs to be within a pair of quotation marks. In American English, additional punctuation usually goes inside the quotation marks.


Americans and the British use punctuation differently with quotation marks. In American English, we write “policeman.” In British English, they write “bobby”. Note that the period lies inside the quotation marks for one and outside for the other. When punctuation is excluded from a quoted phrase, it remains outside: Did she finish her letter by writing, “I love you, Ned”? (The letter didn’t say “I love you, Ned?”.) For quotation marks within a quoted phrase, use single marks: The author told me, “My editor said, ‘We need an example here’ for this part of the book.”

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