Quotation marks are generally recognized for their use in dialogue. However, there are subtle rules when it comes to quotes, as well as other uses, that can make them tricky. Here’s the breakdown on quotation marks and how to use them.
Quotation marks most often represent dialogue. Any content a character in a fiction book or person being interviewed said verbatim should be in quotes. Quotes in journalism represent exact statements without any editing (though ellipses can be used to illustrate where part of a quote was omitted and later continued, and parentheses can be used to insert background information). For American English, all punctuation marks should be inside the quotes.
Correct: “How are you doing?” she asked.
Incorrect: “How are you doing”? she asked.
Correct: The article is: “Investing in Social Good is Finally Becoming Profitable,” by Paul Sullivan.
Incorrect: The article is: “Investing in Social Good is Finally Becoming Profitable”, by Paul Sullivan
For nonfiction/journalism, when referencing an article or chapter of a book (smaller bodies of work), the titles should be put in quotes (as seen above); whereas whole pieces of work (movies, books, plays, magazines, newspapers, etc.) should be italicized.
Double vs Single Quotes
Quotation marks can get tricky when you run into a quote-within-a-quote scenario. In both fiction and nonfiction, if someone is speaking and their dialogue is within double quotes and they then quote someone else, a single quotation mark is used to distinguish the quote within the quote. Double quotations marks are not used again.
Correct: “My dad asked me this weekend, ‘What are you doing today?’ and I told him ‘Nothing,’ so we went hiking.”
Incorrect: “My dad asked me this weekend, “What are you doing today?” and I told him “Nothing,” so we went hiking.”
A quote within a quote can also serve as the end of the quote, in which case the double quotation marks go outside of the single quotation mark: “My dad asked me this weekend, ‘What are you doing today?’ and I said ‘Nothing.’”
Of course, a way to avoid this is to paraphrase the quote within the quote, unless the exact words are important to the overall meaning. For example, the above sentence could be changed to: “My dad asked me if I was doing anything this weekend; I told him I wasn’t, so we went hiking.” This works because there was nothing particularly distinguishable or important about how the father asked the son what he was doing and how the son responded.
If, however, the dialogue of the quote within the quote can not be paraphrased without losing its personality or significance, it should be left in single quotation marks: “My dad asked me this weekend, ‘Hey, kiddo, I ain’t seen ya in a while. What say you and I finally go tackle that son-of-a-gun mountain?’ so we went hiking.” By keeping the direct quote, it captures the father’s mannerisms and speech patterns that may be important to the story. When in doubt, try to paraphrase, but if doing so loses important meaning or nuances of the speaker that are important to the story (fiction or nonfiction), keep it in quotations.
Something to note: This is the rule for American English. Occasionally, you may see British English reverse this technique and put general dialogue in single quotation marks and quotes within quotes in double quotation marks.