When to Use Quotation Marks ("") | Rules & Examples

Quotation marks (also known as quotes or inverted commas) are used to indicate direct speech and quotations.

In academic writing, you need to use quotation marks when you quote a source. This includes quotes from published works and primary data such as interviews. The exception is when you use a block quote, which should be set off and indented without quotation marks.

Whenever you quote someone else’s words, use a signal phrase to introduce it and integrate it into your own text. Don’t rely on quotations to make your point for you.

Single vs. double quotation marks

There are two types of quotation marks: ‘single’ and “double.” Which one to choose generally depends on whether you are using American or British English. The US convention is to use double quotation marks, while the UK convention is usually to use single quotation marks.

Single vs. double quotation marks
US English UK English
  • Uran describes the results as “promising.”
  • Uran describes the results as ‘promising’.

Double quotation marks can also be acceptable in UK English, provided you are consistent throughout the text. APA Style requires double quotations.

Quotes within quotes

When your quotations are nested (i.e., a quote appears inside another quote), you should use the opposite style of quotation marks for the nested quotation.

Quotes within quotes in US and UK English
US English UK English
  • According to Uran, “Writing in the field is oversaturated with jargon terms like ‘agile learning.’”
  • According to Uran, ‘Writing in the field is oversaturated with jargon terms like “agile learning”’.

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Punctuation following quotations

US and UK English also differ on where to place punctuation within quotation marks.

  • In US English, commas and periods that follow a quote are placed within the quotation marks.
  • In UK English, all punctuation marks are placed outside the quotation marks, except when they are part of the original quotation.
Punctuation placement with quotes in US and UK English
US English UK English
  • Solis described the situation as “precarious.”
  • Solis described the situation as ‘precarious’.

In all variants of English, a question mark appears inside the quotation marks when the person quoted was asking a question, but outside when it’s you asking the question.

  • Smith asks, “How long can this situation continue?”
  • How many participants reported their satisfaction as “high”?

Note that when you include a parenthetical citation after a quote, the punctuation mark always comes after the citation (except with block quotes).

  • Solis described the situation as “precarious” (2022, p. 16).

Quotation marks for source titles

Some source titles (e.g., the title of a journal article) should be presented in quotation marks in your text. Others are italicized instead (or occasionally written in plain text).

The rules for how to format different source titles are largely the same across citation styles, though some details differ. The key principles apply in all the main styles:

  • Use italics for sources that stand alone
  • Use quotation marks for sources that are part of another source

Some examples are shown below, with the proper formatting:

  • The Routledge Companion to Critical Theory [book]
  • “Poststructuralism” [book chapter]
  • Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology [journal]
  • “What Is Personality Disorder?” [journal article]
  • Friends [TV series]
  • “The One Where Rachel Quits” [TV episode]

Indirect quotation

Indirect quotation means reporting what someone said without using exactly the same words they did.

It’s a lot like paraphrasing, except that you’re only changing the words you need to in order to fit the statement into your new sentence grammatically. For example, changing the pronouns or the tense.

Indirect quotation is more common in everyday speech, but it can occur in academic writing too. When it does, keep in mind that you should only use quotation marks around words taken directly from the original speaker or author.

  • One participant stated that “he found the exercises frustrating.”
  • One participant stated that he found the exercises frustrating.
  • One participant described the exercises as “frustrating.”

Scare quotes

“Scare quotes” are quotation marks used around words that are not a direct quotation from a specific source. They are used to signal that a term is being used in an unusual or ironic way, that it is borrowed from someone else, or that the writer is skeptical about the term.

  • Many politicians have blamed recent electoral trends on the rise of “fake news.”

While scare quotes have their uses in academic writing (e.g., when referring to controversial terms), they should only be used with good reason. Inappropriate use of scare quotes creates ambiguity.

  • The institution organized a fundraiser in support of “underprivileged children.”
  • Scientists argue that “global warming” is accelerating due to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The “Brexit” negotiations are still ongoing.

In these examples, the words within scare quotes are widely accepted terms with clear meanings that can’t be attributed to a specific person or source. Using quotation marks implies skepticism about the concepts in question.

Frequently asked questions about quotation marks

Should I use single or double quotation marks?

The use of single and double quotation marks when quoting differs between US and UK English. In US English, you must use double quotation marks. Single quotation marks are used for quotes within quotes.

In UK English, it’s most common to use single quotation marks, with double quotation marks for quotes within quotes, although the other way around is acceptable too.

What is a quote?

A quote is an exact copy of someone else’s words, usually enclosed in quotation marks and credited to the original author or speaker.

How do I quote text that contains a citation?

If you’re quoting from a text that paraphrases or summarizes other sources and cites them in parentheses, APA and Chicago both recommend retaining the citations as part of the quote. However, MLA recommends omitting citations within a quote:

  • APA: Smith states that “the literature on this topic (Jones, 2015; Sill, 2019; Paulson, 2020) shows no clear consensus” (Smith, 2019, p. 4).
  • MLA: Smith states that “the literature on this topic shows no clear consensus” (Smith, 2019, p. 4).

      Footnote or endnote numbers that appear within quoted text should be omitted in all styles.

      If you want to cite an indirect source (one you’ve only seen quoted in another source), either locate the original source or use the phrase “as cited in” in your citation.

      How do I punctuate quotes within quotes?

      Quotes within quotes are punctuated differently to distinguish them from the surrounding quote.

      • If you use double quotation marks for quotes, use single quotation marks for quotes within quotes.
      • If you use single quotation marks for quotes (e.g., in UK English), use double quotation marks for quotes within quotes.

      Make sure to close both sets of quotes!

      What is indirect quotation?

      Indirect quotation means reporting what someone said (or wrote) but not using their exact words. It’s similar to paraphrasing, but it only involves changing enough words to fit the statement into your sentence grammatically (e.g., changing the tense or the pronouns).

      Since some of the words have changed, indirect quotations are not enclosed in quotation marks.

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      Shona McCombes

      Shona has a bachelor's and two master's degrees, so she's an expert at writing a great thesis. She has also worked as an editor and teacher, working with students at all different levels to improve their academic writing.