Quotes and quotation marks Part Two

Unnecessary Quote Marks
Let's "knock down the door" and "barge in", ey.

Single and double quotation marks

Double quotation marks are reserved for ‘quotes within quotes’, whereas single quotation marks are used for quotations according to the Style Guide & Cambridge Guide to English Usage.


  • He said ‘I don’t like it when you call him “Big Ears”; it’s insulting!’

Nevertheless, except for government publications (where single quotation marks are preferred), it is acceptable to use double quotation marks as a first option if this is your preference. Double quotation marks (in the first instance) are preferred in journalism and the media.

Linguistic slumming

Beware of authors who use quote marks for the linguistic equivalent of slumming, partaking of colloquial vocabulary and sneering at it at the same time. If the use of ‘scare quotes’ is ‘over the top’ it can put the reader ‘off-side’, and in the ‘worst-case scenario’ it’s a real ‘turn-off’.

Source: The Editor’s Companion, 2004.

Quotes and tone

Be sparing with quotes. Direct quotes should be used when either the speaker or what he said is surprising, or when the words he used are particularly pithy or graphic. Otherwise you can probably paraphrase him more concisely. The most pointless quote is the inconsequential remark attributed to a nameless source: ‘Everyone wants to be in on the act,’ says one high-ranking civil servant.

Source: The Economist Style Guide

Quotation marks or inverted commas?

The term ‘inverted commas’ has been used and is still sometimes used (most prevalently in UK English). However, the currently preferred and most commonly used term is quotation marks, or in short, quote marks.

Quotes and quotation marks

Two punctuation marks at the end of a sentence

When two punctuation marks coincide at the end of a sentence, do you need both? The general principles are:

  • If the marks are the same, only one is needed.
  • If they are different, the stronger or ‘heavier’ one takes precedence.

A question mark thus supersedes a full stop used to mark the end of a sentence or quotation:

  • He asked, ‘Do you want a lift?’
  • What did they mean by ‘Further information is needed’?

In each case, the question mark takes over from the full stop which might have appeared on the other side of the quote marks.

Source: The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, 2004.

P. 116 Place the terminating punctuation inside the closing quotation mark when there is no carrier expression, but outside teh closing quotation mark whenever there is a carrier expression:

  • ‘It’s great fun. I love being an advocate.’


  • She laughed and said, ‘It’s great fun. I love being an advocate’.

When two different punctuation marks would logically appear together—one applying to the quotation and the other to the sentence—it is a question of deciding which is the stronger and retaining only that:

  • He heard the Speaker call ‘Order!’
  • A person might ask, ‘Why should a prospective employer have access to my medical records?’


  • Did you hear her say ‘Hooray for the digital age’?
  • On this note, the last bullet point in a list takes a full stop—unless some bullet points contain more than one sentence, in which case it would be more consistent to place a full stop after each bullet point in the list.

Source: Style Manual, sixth edition*

*Style Manual fifth edition—note that style rules change. It may be best to replace the 5th edition if you are using it, as it states: When two different punctuation marks appear together, one applying to the quotation and the other to the sentence, both should be printed. (*He said, ‘Do you think I am mad?’.)

Janet Mackenzie on quotation marks:

Americans cut through this dilemma by placing all end punctuation inside the closing quote mark, and dialogue in novels also follows this practice. It doesn’t matter which rule you follow; the reader will soon get used to it as long as the system has some logic and is consistently applied.

Source: The Editor’s Companion, 2004.

More on this topic next week!