Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Grammar Check - Quotation Marks

A new year, and I'm reintroducing Grammar Check to my blog. This is a monthly installment where I break down a concept in grammar, such as the difference between "affect" and "effect," the semicolon, and the difference between "then" and "than."

Today's post is about the quotation mark. Specifically, it's about the double quotation mark. Quotation marks are used for a few different purposes, the most obvious of which is to denote speech. When it comes to speech, the rules surround quotation marks are pretty simple. There should be a quote at the beginning and end of the dialogue. If there's an attribute at the end, the punctuation should be inside the quote, before the attribute. If the attribute is at the beginning, the punctuation should be after the attribute, but before the opening quotation mark. For example:

"Can you throw the ball?" Jamie asked.
"Throw it here," Todd demanded.
Alice shook her head and said, "I don't want to throw it."
"Throw it!" yelled Josh.

As you can see, it doesn't matter what kind of sentence the dialogue is (interrogative, imperative, declarative, or exclamatory). The punctuation mark goes inside the quotation marks, but before the attribution (if the attribution is after the dialogue). If the word that follows the quotation mark isn't a proper noun (so if it's something like "yelled" in the above example), that word is lowercase, no matter with what punctuation mark the dialogue ends. And no matter what, the punctuation mark that's after the attribution is always a period (or a comma or semicolon, if the sentence is going to continue. But it's never a question mark or exclamation point).

There are other uses for the quotation marks as well. One is for certain titles. The rules about grammar and titles have changed a lot since I was in school, with the more widespread use of computers and their ability to italicize. But there are still times to use quotes, especially for shorter works, like articles, song titles, short stories, poems, TV episodes, etc.

Now, I know the next question is, "Where do I put the punctuation if the title of an article is also the end of the sentence?" And I have to admit, this one has tripped me up a time or two, and it's because there's a geographical component to it. In America, commas and periods always go inside the quotation marks. Semicolons and colons always go outside. In Europe, commas and periods go outside the quotation marks when it comes to titles. So that's something to keep an eye on when you're writing.

More informally, quotation marks are also used to indicate sarcasm or skepticism. I'm sure everyone has at some point in their life used air quotes in conversation to refer to something in a disbelieving or sarcastic tone. That works in writing too, and the rules are the same as with titles.

I know it seems like a lot of rules (and some of them were difficult to articulate without making it more complicated than it is), but the more you use them, the more comfortable you'll get. Like with anything else, practice is the key. Good luck!

If there are any topics you want me to cover in this series, leave me a comment or email me at tobisummers@writeme.com.


  1. You know what amazes me? My son is learning to type like this in fourth grade now. Can you believe it? I didn't learn to do that until high school!

    1. I know, right? I think it's good to start them early though. So many adults still don't know the basics.

  2. You know what amazes me? My son is learning to type like this in fourth grade now. Can you believe it? I didn't learn to do that until high school!

  3. There are many tricks to using semicolons and colons which is reliable for you to write.