When Do You Use “Quotation Marks”?

by Liz Bureman | 95 comments

A few years ago, I rented a car. Normally this wouldn't be a memorable event. But an appalling misuse of grammar burned it into my mind, and years later, I haven't forgotten.

When Do You Use Quotation Marks

You see, when I went to the airport to return the rental, I saw this wonderfully instructive sign.

Please leave keys in car quotation marks

And this brings me to today's grammar lesson: how and when to use quotation marks.

The Correct Ways to Use Quotation Marks

Quotation marks have gained new responsibilities in writing in the past fifty years. Previously, they were pretty exclusively used to mark dialogue. But with the introduction of sarcasm and facetiousness into our lives, they have found a whole new purpose.

Let's take a look at today's uses of quotation marks.

1. Quotation marks designate dialogue.

This is probably the first thing you learned about quotation marks in grade school. When little Johnny and Sally had their first conversation about watching Spot run, their conversation was marked by quotation marks.

“See Spot run, Johnny,” said Sally.

“Spot runs fast!” said Johnny.

“Run, Spot, run!” said Sally.

Nothing fancy about that. When someone starts talking, open the quotation marks. When they stop, close the quotation marks. Make sure your ending punctuation is inside the quotes.

2. Quotation marks designate titles of poems, articles or shorter works.

Robert Frost's “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” is one of my earliest memories of exposure to poetry. “How to Use Either, Neither, Or, and Nor Correctly” is the most popular post on The Write Practice.

Any time you are making reference to a scholastic article, newspaper article, or anything similar, use quotation marks around the title of the article/poem/blog post/song/TV episode/etc.

3. Quotation marks reveal the use of sarcasm, irony, euphemisms, or slang.

It's become a thing in American culture to use air quotes. I realize we have some overseas readers, so for all those unfamiliar, air quotes are when you take the first two fingers of your hand and curl them like bunny ears.

The dude in this Wikipedia article has it down.

Air quotes designate that what you're saying should not be taken at face value. You are being sarcastic or lying outright. In your writing, they're used in the same way. For example:

Alice sat on a park bench and watched the “runners” turn their heads towards her, trying to make eye contact.

The quotation marks in this example indicate that the runners aren't running so much as checking her out, and are being less than subtle about it.

Using Quotation Marks Correctly Is “Key”

Going back to the example of the sign from the airport above, the quotes around “keys” would indicate that the rental facility doesn't mean for you to leave your actual keys in the car. But since they obviously do want you to leave your keys, the quotes here are completely inaccurate.

Grammarphiles everywhere are outraged.

Do you ever run into trouble using quotation marks? Let me know in the comments!

Need more grammar help? My favorite tool that helps find grammar problems and even generates reports to help improve my writing is ProWritingAid. Works with Word, Scrivener, Google Docs, and web browsers. Also, be sure to use my coupon code to get 20 percent off: WritePractice20

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PRACTICE

Every citizen has the right to live in a grammatically correct world.

For fifteen minutes, write a letter of protest chastising the car rental agency. Make sure you use as many quotes (correctly) as you can. Be sarcastic. Cite made-up articles as “sources” (putting the titles in quotes, of course). Finally, use some dialogue just to show this “agency” the right way to use quotes.

Post your letter of protest in the practice box below. Then give feedback to a few other protest letters from fellow writers.

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Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

95 Comments

  1. joco

    Before I begin my letter to the car company, I would like to point out to our “young” blogger, Liz, that there was no Johnny in my first grade primer, “Fun with Dick and Jane.” And, yes, I realize that I have indeed misused quotation marks in probably both of these examples because Liz is indeed young, so no sarcasm needed and my first grade primer was a book, not a poem or article. But I could classify it as what Liz called one of the “shorter works of writing.”

    I do have another question regarding quotation marks. Where is the appropriate place to include the question mark in this example?

    Have you read the recent blog post “When to Use ‘Quotation Marks'” (?)

    Reply
    • epbure

      A good question, tdub. When you’re using a question mark or exclamation point, and the punctuation in question doesn’t belong to the internally quoted segment, then it is placed outside the quotation. In the case of your example, the properly punctuated phrase would be:

      Have you read the recent blog post “When to Use ‘Quotation Marks'”?

      Not the prettiest thing in the world, but generally that’s how you’d structure the punctuation.

    • Sharry

      I had a similar question about where to put the quotation marks when a comma or period is used, especially if the QMs are around words quoted from another text. I do this a lot with regulations: regulation ABC says, “…what were you thinking,” but XYZ says, “…not a chance in hell will you….” Should the comma and final period be in the QMs or outside of them?

    • epbure

      Commas and periods…okay. I’m not sure if this fully answers your question, Sharry, but I’ll give it a go. Mind you, this is the rule as far as American English goes, so I don’t know if that affects you at all.

      General rule of thumb is that commas and periods go inside quotation marks. For example:

      The Declaration of Independence guarantees citizens the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

      In the transcript of the Declaration, that phrase ends with a period, and it lives inside the quotation marks. However, even if the phrase didn’t, you would still end with the final punctuation inside the quotes. Example:

      Those rights that Jefferson described are ones that he considers to be “self-evident.”

      The only exception is if you’re only putting a letter or number inside the quotation marks. Then the period/comma goes outside. Example:

      It’s hard thinking of words that start with “X”, but I’m convinced that they’re better than words that start with “Q”.

      Hope that helps!

    • guest

      in

  2. tdub

    Before I begin my letter to the car company, I would like to point out to our “young” blogger, Liz, that there was no Johnny in my first grade primer, “Fun with Dick and Jane.” And, yes, I realize that I have indeed misused quotation marks in probably both of these examples because Liz is indeed young, so no sarcasm needed and my first grade primer was a book, not a poem or article. But I could classify it as what Liz called one of the “shorter works of writing.”

    I do have another question regarding quotation marks. Where is the appropriate place to include the question mark in this example?

    Have you read the recent blog post “When to Use ‘Quotation Marks'” (?)

    Reply
    • Liz

      A good question, tdub. When you’re using a question mark or exclamation point, and the punctuation in question doesn’t belong to the internally quoted segment, then it is placed outside the quotation. In the case of your example, the properly punctuated phrase would be:

      Have you read the recent blog post “When to Use ‘Quotation Marks'”?

      Not the prettiest thing in the world, but generally that’s how you’d structure the punctuation.

    • Sharry

      I had a similar question about where to put the quotation marks when a comma or period is used, especially if the QMs are around words quoted from another text. I do this a lot with regulations: regulation ABC says, “…what were you thinking,” but XYZ says, “…not a chance in hell will you….” Should the comma and final period be in the QMs or outside of them?

    • Liz

      Commas and periods…okay. I’m not sure if this fully answers your question, Sharry, but I’ll give it a go. Mind you, this is the rule as far as American English goes, so I don’t know if that affects you at all.

      General rule of thumb is that commas and periods go inside quotation marks. For example:

      The Declaration of Independence guarantees citizens the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

      In the transcript of the Declaration, that phrase ends with a period, and it lives inside the quotation marks. However, even if the phrase didn’t, you would still end with the final punctuation inside the quotes. Example:

      Those rights that Jefferson described are ones that he considers to be “self-evident.”

      The only exception is if you’re only putting a letter or number inside the quotation marks. Then the period/comma goes outside. Example:

      It’s hard thinking of words that start with “X”, but I’m convinced that they’re better than words that start with “Q”.

      Hope that helps!

  3. bridgetstraub.com

    I just want them to adjust the sign to have it say: Leave “Keys”
    (wink, wink)
    In Car

    Reply
  4. bridgetstraub.com

    I just want them to adjust the sign to have it say: Leave “Keys”
    (wink, wink)
    In Car

    Reply
  5. Dawn

    Liz,

    What about when a character is thinking. I have read a couple of books where quotation marks were not used to show the words of a characters thoughts and then some that have used quotation marks. Which is correct?

    “Not again!” she thought as she nearly tripped over the pile of laundry in the middle of Herr son’s bedroom.

    Or

    Not again! she thought as she nearly tripped over the pile of laundry in the middle of here son’s bedroom.

    Reply
    • Dawn

      Ugh! One must never be too quick to hit the send button! I apologize to one and all for the many grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes I made in that post. It is rather late. Can I blame it on being too tired?

    • Ken

      Blame it on the gremlins in the site’s program. Or a keyboard with dyslexia.

      I often write thoughts without quotes and without italics. I think it is a new way of writing.

      “He stood in front of the door. She won’t let me in.”
      But sometimes people say, you got your tenses muddled. LOL.

    • Jeff Goins

      I’ve wondered the same thing. I BELIEVE italics are appropriate here. A cursory search on Google seems to justify this.

    • _T_T_

      The first.

  6. Dawn

    Liz,

    What about when a character is thinking. I have read a couple of books where quotation marks were not used to show the words of a characters thoughts and then some that have used quotation marks. Which is correct?

    “Not again!” she thought as she nearly tripped over the pile of laundry in the middle of Herr son’s bedroom.

    Or

    Not again! she thought as she nearly tripped over the pile of laundry in the middle of here son’s bedroom.

    Reply
    • Dawn

      Ugh! One must never be too quick to hit the send button! I apologize to one and all for the many grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes I made in that post. It is rather late. Can I blame it on being too tired?

    • Jeff Goins

      I’ve wondered the same thing. I BELIEVE italics are appropriate here. A cursory search on Google seems to justify this.

  7. Mike Young

    I came across this ‘article’ while looking for information on using air quotes. I’d suggest that with different kinds of electronic remotes and locking devices being used for cars now, you might also need an unlocking device along with the key, or there might not actually be a traditional key at all. The use of “Keys” on the sign might have been quite intentional.

    Reply
    • Ken

      Good point Mike. It comes down to people who write public notices, or letters should be very careful to be clear.

  8. Mike Young

    I came across this ‘article’ while looking for information on using air quotes. I’d suggest that with different kinds of electronic remotes and locking devices being used for cars now, you might also need an unlocking device along with the key, or there might not actually be a traditional key at all. The use of “Keys” on the sign might have been quite intentional.

    Reply
  9. Derek

    Are the quotation marks necessary in the following sentence?
    Please click on “Jump to next page” link to continue navigating the article.

    Reply
    • _T_T_

      Use a different font style to indicate web or page controls.

  10. Derek

    Are the quotation marks necessary in the following sentence?
    Please click on “Jump to next page” link to continue navigating the article.

    Reply
  11. Michelle Muhlbach

    Question… if you are writing fiction, and a character is reading a letter. Do you put quotations around the text in the letter? Example, … she picked up the note and read it, “My dearest Jane….” would you put quotes around “my dearest jane….” ? Or simply type it in italics to denote that it is apart from the rest of the narrative?

    Reply
    • Firstname Lastname

      is she reading it aloud?

    • Ken

      I think if you are quoting something, then you would put it in quotes or italics.
      For example,
      The letter read: ‘Dear Sir or Madam …’
      In a world where double quotes are used for speech, I’d use single quotes for something not actually said.
      In a world where single quotes are used for direct speech (academic English), then I’d probably use double quotes for the letter.

      But you could do:
      The letter read:
      Dear Sir or Madam, …

      Indenting it, still using italics if you want.

      There’s a lot of variation in punctuation. The rule is: Be clear and understandable.

    • _T_T_

      Wrong: “In a world where single quotes are used for direct speech (academic English), then I’d probably use double quotes for the letter.”

      There’s really not “that much variable” in punctuation. There are actual rules.

    • Fresh

      Do you use double quotes for a fictional character after he said? For example, he said, “I have to go to the store.” Is this correct?

    • _T_T_

      Yes, when you quote someone, you use double quotes. When you’re quoting some who is quoting someone/thing else, you surround the main quote in double quotes, with the sub-quote in single quotes:

      My mother said, “You know, your father always yelled ‘Go get ’em, tiger!’ whenever you went up to bat.”

    • Yumna Mahmood

      yes it is correct

    • NKh

      In primary school, we were taught that double quotation marks were actually called speech marks and only ever used when writing speech, and we called a single quotation mark an apostrophe to indicate a quote or shorten a word.

    • LilianGardner

      I was taught his about double quotation marks, too, and it sticks with me.

    • Yumna Mahmood

      Change the paragraph, it makes it clear. Otherwise in book I saw it was simply typed in italic.

  12. Brayden

    Do you add quotation marks in narrative poems?

    Reply
  13. Cody Nichols

    I have an important question and I can’t seem to find it anywhere. If I’m writing a story in first person, but I’m reiterating a conversation between my main character and another character, do I have to start a new paragraph for each line of dialogue when one or the other speaks or is it one paragraph because my character is telling the conversation? I know to use quotation marks for each speaker but am not sure about the rule for paragraph indentation in this case. please if anyone knows would love to find out about this. Thanks.

    Reply
  14. Cody Nichols

    I’m writing a story in the first person, my question isn’t so much about quotation marks as it is about paragraph indentation when my main character is reiterating a conversation between himself and another character. Because this is him telling about the conversation do I have to start a new line/paragraph for each new set of dialogue when one character speaks or is it one paragraph? Please get back to me on this as I haven’t found any answers about this so far.

    Reply
    • Ken

      Perhaps you need to post a short example, Cody, to make clear what you mean.

  15. Makkuro

    One question: if you’re trying to tell someone the meaning of a word, e.g. it means ____, do you have to put the meaning in quotation marks? I’ve been thinking that you don’t, but I’ve seen instances where they are inserted so I’d like to clarify once and for all – do you have to put double quotation marks in this case?

    Reply
  16. Judi

    When I am writing if I tell (in the past) that somebody said something, must I use quotation marks.

    Reply
    • _T_T_

      Yes.

  17. Lele Lele

    Me as a concerned citizen that passed by car rentals agency would like to “thank” this “fine” establishment. Driving up the “good” car I rented, I saw the “safety” sign of leaving your keys in the car. I was momentarily confused. Did I have to leave the keys or do I have to take them with me?

    As per “https://thewritepractice.com/when-you-use-quotation-marks/” by “professional” “grammarian” Liz Bureman, this practice is incorrect. The use of quotation marks implies sarcasm or dishonesty. One would think a “good” business such as this car rental agency would know that.

    People would get confused. I saw people scratching their heads when they saw the sign. One couple, I assume, where in a debate as to what they were suppose to do. I sink in the back of my car to listen to this “conversation.”

    “Come on Dany,” the man said. “It clearly says, “leave your “keys” in the car.”“

    The woman, Dany, I assume rolled her eyes. “Look here, see. There’s this expert I read from the internet. She knows like, quotes imply they’re not telling the truth. So we should take them with us Jon.”

    The man, Jon, groaned. “Oh, so this “expert” told you?” he said. “Fine, let’s take this stupid key with us, unlike common practice where you leave your keys in cars when your returning your cars an rental agencies. Fine.”

    Dany sighed. “You don’t have to be a jerk about it. I mean, maybe they wrote the sign wrong.”

    Jon relaxed. “This is America, everything’s wrong.”

    Dany smiled. “You’re “right”.”

    “What’s with the air-quotes?” Jon said.

    “Nothing, nothing,” Dany said. “Just we take the keys with us, just to be safe.”

    “Argh.” Jon booped his head on the steering wheel.

    See, this “happy” couple would argue about something as trivial as this. I am rather confused myself. The woman was very “persuasive”. Her dimples really swayed the argument in her favor. I should go “visit” them and set the man Jon straight.

    This is your “satisfied” customer giving you advice. Fix the damn sign. Tell us what you mean. Don’t imply. Just, use the same language as everyone else, okay?

    Reply
    • Ken

      Thank you for this.

      At this point, I ‘understand’ what the main post means, even though I think the sign is a silly thing to write. It seems the car renters were being ‘clever’. What is wrong, isn’t that they are using ‘air quotes’, it is that they should have, for a public notice, said clearly what they meant. Such as, “Don’t leave your keys in the car.”

      Thanks for clearing this up.

    • _T_T_

      I think the sign writers were idiots, plainly and simply. An electronic key is still a key. No quotes required.

  18. Reagan Colbert

    Yikes! I don’t want to meet the “Keys” person. This is one of the things I am so particular about. However, I run into a snag on places such as social media. The second point you made (how to use quotation marks when citing shorter works), is one of the many grammar rules that always sticks in my head. But I find myself forced to use them incorrectly (shudder) on Social media and other places that don’t have an option to italicize larger pieces (like book titles). Quotes is the only other option I have to set the title apart from the rest of the text.

    The problems that grammar-freaks face 🙂
    Great article.

    Reply
  19. manilamac

    Liz, quotation marks are such a fraught subject (especially w/r//t other punctuation & common online usage that can be damaging to a writer’s SWE bona fides) that this deserves morphing into a new post. Internet, for instance, seems to have “taught” people that single quotes are some kind of minor or lesser (or non-scare/sarcasm) version of double quotes. I edit pieces often where a ‘word’ that’s being defined is relegated to single quote land.

    As for punctuation inside or outside quotes, that’s a stylebook issue. For periods & commas, some publications (NYTimes for instance) insist “always in.” While others (especially Anglophone ones, but also such Silicon Valley natives as Medium) insist “always out”. Question marks are even worse…some publications picking one of the two above blanket rules, others insisting on elaborate judgments about whether the quotation itself is a question or merely *part* of a question.
    Just about the only true uniformity to be found is that colons & semi-colons go outside the quotes…
    And none of this even considers the British norm of using single quotes first & double quotes internally. Oh well…I guess my point is that beginning writers are learning more (questionable) stuff from internet exchanges than they are from the instructors who are ‘supposed’ to be teaching them SWE. (You see what I did there…this is, after all, an online comment, even though it’s on the subject of grammar.)

    Reply
  20. Ken

    In academic English, writers use single and double quotes in the opposite way to the way the Americans do, and how we did.
    For a while, I dallied with this using single quotes for direct speech, but decided to revert to the former practice, which the Americans still follow, of using double quotes.

    I think the way of doing punctuation is not like spelling which is sometimes definite. Different writers punctuate differently, and no one can say which way is wrong.

    For instance you can see examples like:
    He thought that he was late.
    ‘I’m late,’ (with or without, ‘he thought’)
    Or even
    He rushed down the street. I’m late! He speeded up. (with ‘he thought’ and quotes omitted completely — I prefer this 🙂 Sometimes writers use italics here.

    Reply
  21. dduggerbiocepts

    I’m not so sure the sign is incorrect. This is probably a rental car return sign similar to the ones I see at airports most of the time. They want the rental car keys left in the vehicle so they can move the car from the drop off point to their rental car return processing point. The reason the word keys is in quotation marks could be that more and more cars today don’t have actual mechanical keys. A “key” historical meant a mechanical device to properly arrange mechanical lock tumblers in the proper order to either lock or unlock a locking device in the mechanical sense. Instead in recent years more and more cars have an electronic signaling devices that activates the car receivers which in turn activates the solenoids of the cars various locking devices. In the case of the sign the use of “Keys” is meant to describe all key like devices whether they are actually mechanical or electronic or other similar purposed devices. I believe that the sign employs and uses your rule #3 above correctly. The word “key” is being euphemistically.

    Reply
    • Ken

      That’s how I originally read the sign, meaning leave the electronic dingbat in the car. If their key were electronic, then people would know what the sign meant. And as you say, it would be correct.

    • _T_T_

      A manual-turn key and an electronic key are both a type of key. No quotes required when explaining that someone is to return said key. Ever.

  22. Jim Allen

    What are the rules regarding the use of quotation marks to designate internal thoughts or dialogue?

    Reply
    • Alice Sudlow

      When writing internal thoughts and internal dialogue, you have a few options.

      You can use quotation marks just as you would use them for regular dialogue:
      Sally opened the fridge and stared at its bare shelves. “What can I make for dinner?” she wondered.

      You can omit the quotation marks and designate the thoughts/dialogue with italics instead:
      Sally opened the fridge and stared at its bare shelves. What can I make for dinner? she wondered.

      Both of the above examples are considered direct speech, which means you’re giving us the exact words the person said (or in this case, thought). Your third option is to rewrite the passage as indirect discourse:
      Sally opened the fridge and stared at its bare shelves, wondering what she could make for dinner.
      (This option is generally my favorite, but it may not be the best choice for every circumstance.)

      Ultimately, it comes down to a style choice: what do you prefer for the story you’re writing? Whichever you choose, be sure to keep it consistent throughout your piece. You can always sprinkle in some indirect discourse, but if you use quotation marks or italics to indicate direct thoughts in one place, be consistent everywhere else.

  23. LaCresha Lawson

    I try to always live in a Grammarically correct world. But, then I had kids and became a writer….

    Reply
  24. Stella

    Dear anonymous car rental company,

    I am writing to inform you of a fascinating conversation I overheard the other day.

    “Hey, did you know that most people don’t know how to use quotation marks correctly?” Floating Head 1 said.

    “No way!” Floating Head 2 gasped in disbelief. “Aren’t those taught in, like, elementary school?”

    “Yes way,” Floating Head 1 sighed sadly. “I mean, yes they are taught in elementary school, but lots of people aren’t smarter than a fifth grader. That’s why they have that show, “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?”, you know?”

    “I haven’t watched that show,” Floating Head 2 observed. “Isn’t it weird that people would sign up for a show to prove that they are smarter than little kids – and what’s more, that most of them fail?”

    “Yeah, that’s reality TV for you.” Floating Head 1 agreed. “Listen, I think our totally not imaginary “conversation” has made its point, so let’s stop talking now.”

    “Please let’s,” Floating Head 2 said immediately. “The use of quotation marks might be on-point, but everything else about our “conversation” just screams “bad writing” so hard that it’s making my eyes hurt.”

    I couldn’t help but recall the conversation of my dear “friends” Floating Heads 1 and 2 when I walked past your sign today. The sign that exhorted me to “Leave my “Keys” in the car”.

    I was extremely confused and troubled as I was not able to locate any such object as “keys”, much less leave them in the car. I have house keys, gate keys, car keys, office desk keys, and piano keys, but the last time I checked, all of them were able to actually unlock their respective doors/gates/shelves, with the exception of the piano keys which nevertheless “unlock” a wonderful world of music.

    However, given that all of the above successfully unlock their respective objects, they are clearly real keys and not “keys”. I presume that by “keys”, I am intended to locate an object which does not unlock a door, but a “door”? This however does not assist me as I am also unable to locate any such object as a “door”, since all the doors I am acquainted with are real doors that actually open.

    Please give me some guidance on where I ought to find my “keys”. I was very troubled by my inability to comply with your sign, and was forced to leave my car keys (but not my car “keys”) in the car eventually. Perhaps it is my fault for being something of a stickler for rules and becoming very troubled whenever I cannot follow them to the letter. But I have told all my friends (not “friends”) about how distressing I found my inability to do as your sign instructed, and they have all unanimously agreed that they will not rent cars from you in the future. I mean, what if they turn out to be “cars”?

    Thank you for your consideration. Or depending on your response, perhaps I should say thank you for your “consideration”. As quoted in “The Manual of Uninspiring Quotes”, “Just remember that when you screw up, some people will never forgive you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

    Regards,
    Totally not a pseudonym

    Reply
  25. Vincent

    Thanks, great point. I am sure I am guilty of all of these misuses at one time or another. As always not edited, just raw –

    To whom it may concern,

    Surely you must
    send your sign maker the address of the “English or Buffoonery School of Learnt (sic) English.” For sure you meant for people, myself included to leave the “Keys” in the vehicle as I know now because of the please encounter with your desk staff. It went like this:

    “Didn’t you read the sign?”

    “Why, of course and
    it clearly was written “Keys”. I assumed English was your first language and
    therefore understood you were telling us to leave the “Keys”, wink, wink, in
    the car. That is what that sign means to the rest of the English speaking or
    reading world.”

    “For your information I graduated with a degree in English.” Making use of air quotes
    when saying English. “And approved that sign myself, it means leave your Keys in the car.” Once again using air quotes, this time with the work Keys.”

    “I say my friend that I think you have missed a step or two.”

    Looking at me head down, eyes peering over his glasses, brow furrowed, finally slowly blinking his eyes as if to say; “I cannot believe I have to talk to the moron again.” He finally utters, “Hunh?”

    “I merely want to point out that what your sign says doesn’t really indicate what you want to say. I am here and I don’t think I am the only one to have brought my keys in here. How many times do you have this conversation a day?”

    “At least twenty times a day, bub.

    “Exactly the point, you don’t think you should change the sign,” using air quotes to designate sign so he will catch my drift.

    “Ummm, Yea, maybe your right, but this article on the internet, “How to use Quotation marks on signs by Alfred E. Neuman,” says “Words that you want to stand out should be in quotes.”

    “Well how can you argue with that. If “Alfred E. Neuman” says it is so, then by all means.”

    “That is exactly what I said, so now take your keys back out to the car so they can check it in,or else you will be charged an extra,” open air quote left hand, “fifty dollars,” closed air quote with right hand.”

    There is no more I can do, I withdraw for the day, but the war continues. I hope that you can see the gross injustice to the use of quotations on your sign.

    “Sincerely” yours,
    Miss Quoted

    Reply
  26. Bruce Carroll

    I am not going to write a “protest letter” for a “rental agency” that doesn’t know how to use quotation marks. I always try to accentuate the positive, not “chastise” the “ignorant.”
    It is possible that “keys” was a code word of some kind for those in the know. After all, it would be strange if the sign read, “Please leave a fifty-dollar bill in car.” But for those who understand how the system works (how the employees will insure no “incidental damage” is erroneously billed to the renter, for example) a sign reading “Please leave ‘keys’ in car” is perfectly acceptable. Of course, I am only speculating on the possibilities.

    Reply
  27. Animelover121

    Can’t you also use quotation marks in a reading log? I mean, lets say you read this book by this author today, and the next day you wanted to read the same thing. Can’t you put quotation marks in the grid that is below to show that it is the same?

    Reply
  28. suomynona

    Was that last part on the 1st page supposed a joke?

    Reply
  29. Alexina Wilson

    What about the titles of awards? For example in this sentence, “He won the “Golden Globe Award” for “Best Actor in Motion Picture Drama” in “The Wolf of Wall Street” in 2013.
    Do I need to put all of that in quotations??

    Reply
    • _T_T_

      Quotes only around the movie title. The rest are merely titles — proper nouns. And (in the US) when you write a quote within a quote, the internal quote is set off with single quotes. Example:

      Mary said, “Yesterday, my mother came over and shockingly said, ‘Damn, that man’s a looker!’ and my jaw dropped open in amazement.”

    • Erika Szostak

      Actually, the movie title should be italicised, not denoted with quotation marks.

  30. Joni

    1) In writing a book, should these examples have quotes around it?
    For example – fear in this sentence… 1) There are several uses of the word “fear” throughout the text.
    Would it be in quotes?
    Another example – darkness in this sentence…. 2) Because of her affiliation with “darkness” and evil, she was scared.
    Would it be in quotes?
    2) When is it appropriate to use the single quotation, ‘__’.

    Reply
    • _T_T_

      1. Put the word “fear” in italics. (I’d do it here, too, but I can’t apply formatting on this page.) You’re not quoting anyone, you’re emphasizing.
      2. Absolutely no quotes around “darkness”.
      3. Re single quotes, why don’t you consult a style guide, like the Chicago Manual of Style? This stuff is all defined. Also, use of single vs double quotes differs between American English and British English.

    • Joni

      Thank you so much. That helps.

    • _T_T_

      That’s good to hear. Seriously, I’m not trying to be snarky about referencing a style guide. I’m a technical writer, and we’re ALWAYS referencing the particular style guides that a given company uses. But The Chicago Manual of Style is somewhat universal, and good for most general writing. http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/16/contents.html

  31. Doug Perry

    What about second and third air quotes in an article? I am writing an article right now that uses them in the #3 option you listed, but how often should I air quote the word after that in the article? Or is only one air quote permissible per article (even though the quoted word itself is used multiple times)?

    Reply
    • _T_T_

      Whom are you addressing? And “air quotes” are a hand gesture, not real punctuation. I think you need to clarify your question and provide a direct example.

  32. John Galt

    It strikes me that the rental company likely had remote door openers attached to the actual key ring. It would seem they had to endure a number of people only leaving the physical keys and not the infrared remote door openers as people are wont to do. One might be so inclined to make the effort to suss out that “keys” is a euphemistic reference to the entirety of the bundle given the renter at the onset of the relationship. It is possible to imagine said bundle to be labeled “keys.”

    Lest someone take the instruction literally (Literally literally, not figurative literally, great job English majors on defending even that bastion of definition!), and strip the ignition/door keys off the ring and leaving only the actual physical keys while absconding with the infrared remote door openers and key rings. You know, the rest of the “keys” to the car.

    I cannot imagine what might have happened if you had rented a truck there. They didn’t even specify which car inside of which to leave which keys! Oh bother, why didn’t they simply instruct us to leave everything we received from them in the vehicle we rented!

    I couldn’t ken, could I, the cant of argot, without hopeful shot.

    Reply
  33. mo

    I don’t think putting keys in quotation marks affects whether or not you’re suppose to leave the keys. That would make sense if the leave was in quotation marks. I think they probably put in quotes keys because all the cars are modern with fobs. And a fob is not a key. But they didnt want to make a sign that said leave the fob in the car. But actuality the sign looks old so they probably did mean keys but used quotation marks when they should have underlined it. So marks are still used incorrectly but I think its a wrong interpretation to think the marks mean leave or don’t leave….It implies more WHAT the keys are called.

    Reply
  34. Rod Williamson

    I’m not sure how to treat this sentence:
    The subconscious begins sending emotional messages of “Help!”
    Should “Help!” be in quotes? italicized? both?

    Reply
  35. lynn

    I am sending an email and copying and pasting a previously written statement from a president of a local college. Do I put this statement in quotation marks?

    Reply
  36. PerspectiveFive

    Did the rules recently change regarding singular quotation marks? It’s “Alice sat on a park bench and watched the ‘runners’ turn their heads towards her, trying to make eye contact.” Singular quotation marks often denote figures of speech used in a non-literal sense for rhetorical or vivid effect. Example: Following his termination, John realized that his ‘friends’ on the board had secretly planned his demise. Actually, President Trump had it wrong by using double quotations in his much-publicized wiretap tweet. If he meant to say that these were not literal wiretaps but surveillance activities, he should have considered using singular quotation marks.”Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.”

    Reply
    • Jennifer Ortiz

      I’ve never seen or heard of single quotation marks having that usage… Well, I can only speak for American English. Are they used that way in another English-speaking country?

      The following would be correct:
      John realized that his “friends” on the board had secretly planned his demise.

      …unless the sentence is quoted. When double quotation marks are themselves quoted, they become single quotation marks, like this:
      “John realized that his ‘friends’ on the board had secretly planned his demise.”

      The way you quoted the Alice sentence is correct, but your example wasn’t. Trump was right to use double quotes and not single quotes. (If you see the quote quoted, however, you’ll see the double quotes turned into single quotes.) The way he wrote it is still very awkward.

  37. Ethel Robinson

    My husband is telling me that I don’t need to use quotation marks when there is dialogue, that it’s “implied” that they are speaking to each other. Is this correct?

    Reply
  38. Jennifer Ortiz

    I have a question. Punctuation marks go inside the quotes (or so I was taught). That makes sense for dialog. But what about quoting specific words or phrases that may or may not include punctuation? For example, quoting a sign:
    The sign said, “LEAVE ‘KEYS’ IN CAR!”

    Seems easy enough to just drop the period. But then there’s this case:
    Did you see the sign that said, “LEAVE ‘KEYS’ IN CAR!?”

    I think it would have to be written like this:
    Did you see the sign that said, “LEAVE ‘KEYS’ IN CAR!”?

    But then suppose the sign did not have an exclamation point. The question mark is not part of the sign, and to be consistent you’d be writing this:
    Did you see the sign that said, “LEAVE ‘KEYS’ IN CAR”?

    The problem is that this looks awkward:
    The sign said, “LEAVE ‘KEYS’ IN CAR!”.

    What’s the proper way to deal with this case?

    Reply
  39. Karen Vanderlaan

    how do you write quotes within other quotes-a person is thinking , their thoughts are in quotes and then thy quote another?

    Reply
  40. KatNat05

    If you are writing meeting minutes and mention a list of individual policies that are all included in the {Business Name} Policy Manual, should the individual policy titles be surrounded by quotation marks, be italicized, or can they stand as is? For example in the minutes, “The ‘Restrictions on Information Sharing’ policy was discussed”.

    Reply
  41. Frankie65

    Here are two sentences with lists of quotations. Are they both possible in terms of punctuation? If not, what would be correct?
    1. They would say such things as, “I knew they could, but they didn’t,” “I didn’t like it, but such is life,” “I was angry, but not at them.”
    2. They would say such things as: I knew they could, but they didn’t; I didn’t like it, but such is life; I was angry, but not at them.

    Reply
  42. Gina Hansen

    Good morning everyone! My question is, how do I quote a movie or play in an essay when I have to compare and contrast them? I find that I have to constantly mention them in my essay and I am wondering if I need to quote them every time I mention them? Thanks.

    Reply
  43. ereman

    What if the quotes are meant to emphasize, not your keys (“stupid”). No offense to anyone, just saying. So; leave the keys (not your keys st*#*d) in the car. instead of “Please…LEAVE “KEYS” IN CAR!”

    Reply
  44. Jonny

    Thank you for this! I have to say, where I “run into trouble” lately is not so much with the use—or misuse— of quotation marks, it’s actually a complete disregard, or even refusal of `young people` to use ANY type of punctuation whatsoever! And then dismissing my comments/response/concerns about how I am literally unable to decipher the meaning they intended to convey because there are too many «likely candidates» of possible meanings that they could be hoping to express.
    I find it exceedingly frustration and annoying, and I’ve explained to everyone in person (if at all feasible) that I am initiating a new practice/protocol which will affect them.
    That being: I will disregard/ignore any text messages who lack of punctuation leads to multiple likely potential meanings. I will not ask for clarification, nor will I respond or even acknowledge the message in any way or form. And if they have been expecting a response from me, they should assume that the meaning of their message was ambiguous due to the absence of punctuation. And to receive any type of response they must either:
    1. resend with punctuation added (make some attempt; if unclear I will inquire)
    2. rephrase their message (to avoid/prevent ambiguity)
    or at the very least:
    3. add line breaks (new lines)

    Ironically, I’ve recently become aware of over a dozen ‘new’ punctuation marks to encode more precise, detailed and expressive nuances of meaning to written text!
    I’m currently developing a font and keyboard layout which will allow me to utilize them with ease as I see fit.

    As an adjunct to the proposal(s) advocating the adoption of these novel & convenient expressive punctuation is the idea of using different styles/forms of quotation marks to denote various, specific usages/meanings. (Although I utilized several quotation mark variants, I was not intending to encode unique significance for them, just showcasing several examples.)

    Reply
  45. Natsu Dragneel

    Like when MLK jr. said this quote ” We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” was it in public
    in other words does quote have to be said in public to be quote?

    Reply
  46. Lyndi

    I am writing a research paper and I am using an article someone else wrote as a source in where she is stating facts found elsewhere. If I use those facts word for word I know I use parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence but do I put that sentence in quotations since it isn’t the authors words?

    Reply
  47. Mike Alden

    I was just pondering this yesterday while writing, hopefully I got it right…

    “The doctor’s won’t tell me anything since they prepped her and took her into surgery. ‘All we can do is wait’, they say.”

    Reply
  48. Joel Bruessel

    Sorry Liz, but the use of “keys” is correct on the sign since modern cars now have ignitions that no longer use a key that can turn, but rather use an ignition device that is pushed or just in the area to start the car. The term key would not be the exact proper term.

    Reply
  49. Treading Water

    To Liz, and everyone else involved here, I wanted to tell you that my whole life is now CHANGED, due to the terribly important aspect of the correct way vs. the incorrect way to use quotation marks! I have been so completely confused, and fretting over the whole concept of how and when it is appropriate to use the double versus the single quote marks!
    I mean, the entire world’s future hinges on this one aspect, making it perhaps the most relevant issue in today’s troubled times.

    Reply
  50. Lexcia

    Just read your article, and agree with your thoughts in the main.

    Perhaps you could address the problem I see cropping up when dialogue is divided into paragraphs. Example “Billy, run to the shop…
    (New paragraph) When you get home…
    (new Paragraph) Then tonight after dinner we will…”
    I was taught the ALL the Paragraphs would have opening quotation marks but NO Closing Marks except the last paragraph which would have both open and closing quotation marks. I am see opening quotation marks at the beginning of the first paragraph and closing quotation marks at the end of the last paragraph, and nothing for the the intervening paragraphs

    Also, what are your thoughts on the very small school of thought that does away with quotation marks altogether when it comes to dialogue? I personally find it confusing.

    Reply
  51. Carole Worthy

    I was hoping to find clarification about when to use single or double quotation marks. Any comments on this?

    Reply
  52. Priscilla King

    Dear Car Rental Company,

    Please accept my condolences on the sign company’s mistake.

    As the sign designers would know if they had read Liz Bureman’s article, “When Do You Use Quotation Marks?,” the punctuation marks surrounding “keys” on the sign are quotation marks, not asterisks.

    In some online text, asterisks and other punctuation marks appear surrounding words for mere emphasis. This is a holdover from pre-HTML coding systems, some of which are still in use. Asterisks on either side of “*keys*” would make the word print in bold type, and slashes on either side of “/keys/” would make it print in italics.

    In some type fonts, asterisks and quotation marks can look somewhat alike, especially on a small poor-quality screen, as on a cell phone.

    “Did the person who took the order read the e-mail on a cell phone?” the owner of a sign company asked the three part-time employees.

    “Guilty,” an employee admitted.

    “Why did you place quotation marks around ‘keys’?” the owner asked the employee.

    “Umm…’cos when I worked for the car rental company somebody left a bag of dirty laundry in a car once,” the employee mumbled.

    “I would not have done it,” piped up an older employee, “because when I was at school in England, we were taught to use *single* quotation marks around a quotation, and double quotation marks around a quotation within a quotation.”

    “It can be confusing,” said the other part-timer, “because when *I* was at school in England more recently, we were taught to use single quotation marks around an isolated word, such as ‘keys’ when the understood meaning is ‘card thingies used instead of keys,’ and use double quotation marks around an actual quoted sentence, such as ‘It’s become a thing in American culture to use air quotes.'”

    “Whatever,” the owner said, making the W sign. “Just send the company another sign, pronto.”

    Reply
  53. Ruth Hochstetler

    “Really?” What “keys” do you want me to leave? By putting quotation marks around the word keys, you make me wonder if you want your “clients” to leave other than ignition keys of cars in the “car”. According to the article “Keys for Happy Living” someone might leave you a “friend” or a “Bible”. Or after reading the “Keys Can Be Fixed Here” ad you might find a “piano” on the front seat of the car. Your sign gives me “grammaritis” and I hope you are insured for the kinds of “deposits” you may get.

    “What good reason would someone have for writing a sign this way?”, I ask.
    “Maybe they are being sarcastic, because all of their cars have keyless ignitions,” Sally said.
    “That would make the sign very clever”, I thought to myself. “Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge them. Still it looks suspiciously like someone doesn’t understand the English language ‘well’, or is it ‘good’, enough?”

    Reply
  54. Yumna Mahmood

    it would be in quotes.

    Reply
  55. CutiePie

    Would you put quotation marks around a place?

    Reply
  56. CutiePie

    Do you put quotation marks around a place?!!!?

    Reply
  57. Carol Shirley

    When speaking of the American flag as the Stars and Stripes, do you put quotes around it? Thanks.

    Reply

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