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Understanding Quotation Marks: Usage, Rules, and Examples

A lot of people are confused about quotation marks, especially where to place them in a sentence and whether the punctuation mark that follows them should go inside or outside the quoted text.

Milena Lazova
Milena Lazova

A lot of people are confused about quotation marks, especially where to place them in a sentence and whether the punctuation mark that follows them should go inside or outside the quoted text.

But, just like any punctuation marks, quotation marks or quotes have their own set of rules you need to follow. Once you learn them, you won’t have any problem using them correctly in your writing.

So if you want to use them properly and improve your writing style, you need to understand their function and rules for using them.

Quotation Marks—Usage

Quotation marks are a type of punctuation marks that always go in pairs. This means that once you open a quotation, you need to close it right after the quoted word or phrase. You can put words, phrases, or even whole sentences in quotes. The question is when to use quotation marks?

The most common usage is when you want to include direct quotes in your sentence or text. Direct quotes are quotes that are copied word for word from someone or a written source.

It’s when you want to report exactly what someone said or wrote without paraphrasing it. In that case, you use quotation marks to separate the direct quote from the rest of the sentence or text.

Example:

“I don’t think I can make it,” she said.

Keep in mind that if you choose to paraphrase what someone said or wrote, you don’t need quotation marks.

She said she didn’t think she could make it.

You can also use quotation marks to indicate that the quoted material is a title of a book, chapter of a book, website, music album, song from a music album, newspaper, TV show, musical theater, short story, poem, magazine, movie, opera, play, and other types of compositions.

Examples:

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare is considered the most influential play in the world.
Angelina Jolie plays a superhero in “The Eternals.”

You can also put words in quotes if they are considered slang terms:

His “squad” started the whole fight.

Quotation Marks—Rules to Follow

If you want to know how to use quotation marks correctly in your writing, you need to learn a few rules regarding capitalization and other punctuation marks.

Rules Associated with Capitalization

Should the text inside the quotes be capitalized or not? If the quoted text is a part of a sentence or phrase, it shouldn’t begin with a capitalized letter.

They said we are “too lazy to get the job done.”

If the quoted text is a whole sentence, you should begin it with a capitalized letter.

I’m not sure what he meant when he said, “I can always change my mind.”

If the quote is separated by a parenthetical, the second part shouldn’t be capitalized.

“What you should do,” Lora suggested, “is go out and have the best time of your life.”

Rules Associated with Punctuation Marks

What about other punctuation marks next to quotes? Should they go inside or outside the quotes? Well, it depends on the punctuation mark, its position in the sentence (before or after the quotes), and the context of the quoted text.

Let’s start with the most common punctuation marks—periods and commas. Is the period inside or outside quotes? And is the comma inside or outside quotes? Well, the rule here is pretty simple: both of them always go inside the quotation marks.

Examples:

“A burglar broke into my home last night,” Mary said.
I didn’t know how to react when he said, “You’re so beautiful tonight.”

When it comes to colons and semicolons right after the second quotation mark, they always go outside.

Examples:

I know exactly what she meant when she said “Lora’s weakness triangle”: my headaches, smoking habit, and work addiction.
Sam didn’t want to start a fight, so he only said, “No worries”; everyone expected him to react fiercely, but he knew it wasn’t worth it.

In terms of exclamation points and question marks, they go outside the quotation marks if they refer to the entire sentence. If they refer only to the quoted text, they go inside.

Examples:

Should I be worried about him saying, “I feel lonely”?
Tina asked me, “Why do we pretend to be friends when we aren’t?”
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Milena Lazova

I'm an ESL teacher with over 7 years of experience in providing original content. I really like writing educational articles which may help others learn some aspects of English.


Milena Lazova

I'm an ESL teacher with over 7 years of experience in providing original content. I really like writing educational articles which may help others learn some aspects of English.

Cecilia Gigliotti

I have extensive experience writing in a variety of genres, from literary novels to music reviews to academic articles. I appreciate the power of words.

Valentina Dordevic

Hello! My name is Valentina. Book digesting is my specialty. I transform book ideas into easy-to-follow summaries, articles, study guides, reviews, essays, analyses, slides, or e-books.