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Quotations Within Quotations

Almost all of us have found ourselves confused with double and single quotation marks. When do we use single quotation marks? Where does the punctuation go with single quotation marks? With just a few rules and examples, you will feel surer about your decisions.

Rule: Use single quotation marks inside double quotation marks when you have a quotation within a quotation.

Example: Bobbi told me, “Delia said, ‘This will never work.’ ”

Notice that what Delia said was enclosed in single quotation marks. Notice also that the period was placed inside both the single and the double quotation marks. The American rule is that periods always go inside all quotation marks.

Example: Bobbi said, “I read the article, ‘A Poor Woman’s Journey.’ ”

Rule:
Question marks and quotation marks, unlike periods, follow logic with their placement. If a quote inside a quote is a question or exclamation, place the question mark or exclamation mark inside the single quotation marks.

Examples: Bobbi said, “Delia asked, ‘Will this remote control work on my TV?’ ”
Bobbi said, “Delia shouted, ‘Get your hands off me!’ ”

Rule: If the question is inside the double quotation marks, place the question mark between the single and double quotation marks.

Examples: Bobbi asked, “Did Delia say, ‘This will never work’?”

(Because you will rarely need an exclamation mark within the double quotation marks and not within the single quotation marks, there is little sense discussing this.)

Rule: In the above three examples, only one ending punctuation mark was used with the quotation marks. The rule is that the “stronger” mark wins. Question marks and quotation marks are considered stronger than the period. Period!

Posted on Friday, January 26, 2007, at 1:18 am


42 Comments

42 Responses to “Quotations Within Quotations”

  1. Mandy says:

    On the subject of quotation marks, I was taught to use single marks (‘) for quoting text, names, etc. and double marks (“) for spoken words. Have you heard of this? Is it double marks for anything quoted, for instance, a manufacturer’s name on a label, or a product name?

  2. Jane says:

    Mandy, you were taught incorrectly. Use double quotation marks for text and names unless they are within quoted material already. The other option with names of magazines, manufacturer’s names, products, etc., is to use italics.

  3. ravi bedi says:

    I thought it should read as:

    “Didn’t she say,’How did you do that’ ?”

  4. Jane says:

    By all the comments to this blog, I can see how many people have been taught incorrectly. You don’t need the first set of quotation marks around
    Didn’t she say…
    because that is not part of the quote. Even if someone had actually said that part of the sentence, the question mark would be placed inside the single quotation mark.

  5. ravi bedi says:

    If I do that, how will the sentence end?

    e.g., “Didn’t she say,’how did you do that?’…how do we finish this, with a single’ or “?

    Also, the ‘h’; small or capital?

  6. Jane says:

    “Didn’t she say, ‘How did you do that?’”

  7. Ray says:

    How do you put quotations within quotations within quotations.

    Example: “My dad said, ‘Son, don’t pay too much attention to what people ‘think’ as most people don’t'” How do I mark the word “think?”

    • Jane says:

      “My dad said, ‘Son, don’t pay too much attention to what people “think” as most people don’t.’
      OR
      My dad said, “Son, don’t pay too much attention to what people ‘think’ as most people don’t.”

  8. Peg says:

    When are single quotations used?
    The best time of summer is ‘after supper time.’

    • Jane says:

      Single quotation marks are used inside double quotation marks when you have a quotation or title within a quotation.
      Joe said, “My favorite poem is ‘The Raven.’ ”
      In your example, there are no quotation marks necessary.
      The best time of summer is after supper time.

      • Laurie says:

        Jane, I enjoyed your examples and learned a lot from this blog. My room mates and I are currently in Eng 101 in Washington state. However, I think you made a minor error when giving the example of “The Raven” being quoted inside of quotes. Your explanation states that single quotes should be used inside of double quotes, but your example reads similarly to this:
        He said “I enjoyed “The Raven’”. Unless I am mistaken, you inadvertently placed double quotes in front of “The Raven’.” I know this post is old, but I feel that people still refer to it; For example, that is why I am here. I do not mean to unduly criticize. I believe it was just a simple mistake, and if so, requires a simple correction.

  9. Mari says:

    Rule 1
    Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, even inside single quotes.

    Why are so many people putting periods outside the quotation marks today???

    • Jane says:

      Your guess is as good as mine, but one possibility is that the British rule puts the period outside of the quotation marks for some situations. Thus, you may be noticing it more often because the internet is bringing international writing to your attention. Another possibility is simply that people don’t know the rule for American English punctuation.

  10. Jean says:

    You have far too simplified the rules. You need to distinguish between quoting fiction and journals; and how about the citations? Periods always go after the citation in both MLA and APA, not within the quotation marks. Your rules lend to confusion. For the sake of all the Masters and Doctoral students who should know these rules, please make distinctions; or better yet, refer students to the Purdue Owl and other reputable cites that can give more accurate examples.

    • Jane says:

      Perhaps you have far too complicated the rules. The rule stating that periods are placed inside quotation marks of course applies to when both the period and the quotation marks appear at the end of the sentence. For instance, the first example in our Rule 1 of Quotation Marks is, The sign changed from “Walk,” to “Don’t Walk,” to “Walk” again within 30 seconds. While this example demonstrates commas inside quotation marks, the period is not inside quotation marks because the quotation marks are not at the end of the sentence.
      Similarly, as shown in the Purdue Owl, a typical MLA citation may be, This phenomenon is best referred to as a “cumulative collaboration of evidence” (Pepper). Since MLA has chosen to include the author’s name in parentheses within the sentence, the quotation marks do not come at the end of the sentence and therefore the period is not inside the quotation marks.
      If I am misinterpreting your comment, please provide an example where the period is outside the quotation marks at the end of a sentence in any context in American English usage, including citations.

    • Rebecca says:

      Please settle an argument for me! When grading a student’s paper, my husband marked his student wrong for writing this in a line of poetry:

      And “we” became “me”.

      He said the period should go inside the quote and I said it shouldn’t. Who’s right?

      • In American English the period goes inside the quote; however, the British rule puts the period outside of the quotation marks in this case. Therefore, if you live in the United States, your husband is correct.

  11. Richard says:

    Directly from the OWL:

    Quotations within a Quotation

    Use single quotation marks to enclose quotes within another quotation.

    The reporter told me, “When I interviewed the quarterback, he said they simply ‘played a better game.’”

    • Jane says:

      That is consistent with our rule above:
      Use single quotation marks inside double quotation marks when you have a quotation within a quotation.

  12. Abby says:

    Is the following correct? the person is answering the question
    “Because you were still a little boy.”

    “Yes, too young to grasp what he meant by the words, ‘never forget the land, Henry.’ He told me I would never be poor if I have land, ‘especially this land because it is pure gold.’ Those were his exact words.”

    • Jane says:

      A question should be noted by a question mark. Also, capitalize the first letter of a direct quote when the quoted material is a complete sentence.
      “Because you were still a little boy?”
      “Yes, too young to grasp what he meant by the words, ‘Never forget the land, Henry.’ He told me I would never be poor if I have land, ‘especially this land, because it is pure gold.’ Those were his exact words.”

  13. Jennifer says:

    I need to use APA format and often have block quotations (don’t require use of quotation marks). Do I use single or double quotation marks to quote within a block quotation?

    Here’s an example:

    You know. And again, Eric [friend that had MI] is not a very big guy. Like before you saw me today, you would have thought “oh this guy had a heart attack, he’s got to be 300 pounds.” Or some people think just because somebody has a heart attack or they’re diabetic or a huge big guy, big person. And no people are surprised that “you had a heart attack?”

    Thank you!

    • Jane says:

      You should use double quotation marks to quote within a block quotation, but the final phrase within quotation marks is not a direct quote. This passage has many other serious mistakes in it, in fact, too many to go into here. Are you sure you even want to use it?

  14. Anonymous says:

    Is this correct for MLA format?

    “‘What do you think? Do you suppose we’ve come here for our own pleasure? Do you think we asked to come?’ A little more and the man would have killed him,” thought Elie.

  15. Bethany says:

    Hi,

    I’m helping a friend edit a book. Does a phrase that is in quotations take a single or double quote when it is referred to in a thought this author is having (thinking out loud). The whole sentence is currently in italics.

    Thanks you!

    • Jane says:

      You are referring to internal dialogue. Internal dialogue is used by authors to indicate what a character is thinking to himself or herself. Direct internal dialogue refers to a character thinking the exact thoughts as written. Quotation marks and other punctuation are used in the same way as if the character had spoken aloud. You may also use italics without quotation marks for direct internal dialogue. For more information and examples, refer to our blog Internal Dialogue: Italics or Quotes?

  16. Jennifer says:

    Hi! editing a yearbook and the yearbook person took down a quote from the librarian and wrote it like this:

    “I love being the Librarian at Millsap
    and working with every grade level!!
    It brings a smile to my face when I
    see students getting excited about
    the books they pick as well as
    finding “that book” they have been
    wanting for so long!”

    I was wondering if “that book” should be in single quotes???

    Thank you for the assistance!

    • Jane says:

      That book is a quotation within a quotation, therefore use single quotes. Also, since it is not used as part of a name, the title librarian should not be capitalized. In addition, exclamation points should be used with discretion. You might want to consider removing all of them. But if you decide to keep any, only one exclamation point should be used after the word level.

      “I love being the librarian at Millsap
      and working with every grade level.
      It brings a smile to my face when I
      see students getting excited about
      the books they pick as well as
      finding ‘that book’ they have been
      wanting for so long.”

  17. Kelly says:

    I am being instructed to use single quotation inside double, but am not sure how exactly to put the double due to how the sentence is worded.

    Fortunato responds to the suggestion by saying, “Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry.”

    Does the single go within the double? Or does it start at the beginning of the sentence? I have never had to do this before and I will admit that I graduated high school 20 years ago and am in English Comp II now. Been a while for me. Any help on this would really be appreciated.

    • Jane says:

      The double quotation marks in your sentence are placed correctly. We are not sure where single quotation marks, which are used to indicate a quotation within a quotation, could be added without rewording the exact quote from Poe’s story. Here is an example sentence using single quotation marks within double quotation marks:

      Fortunato responded, “Luchesi said, ‘I cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry.’ ”

      Note that we recommend a space between the single and double quotation marks at the end as a courtesy to the reader.

  18. Marlene says:

    I did not see a reply to Rebecca, and I would like to know Jane’s answer.

    Rebecca says:
    December 8, 2013, at 7:20 pm
    Please settle an argument for me! When grading a student’s paper, my husband marked his student wrong for writing this in a line of poetry:

    And “we” became “me”.

    He said the period should go inside the quote and I said it shouldn’t. Who’s right?

    Thanks.

  19. Steve Long says:

    I’m writing a paper in which I want to quote a single verse from the Bible, but that verse has a quote within a quote. How do I punctuate that? Example: The prophet Agabus employed multisensory teaching: “ He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into Gentile hands.’’”

    Thanks.

    • The prophet Agabus employed multisensory teaching. He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into Gentile hands.’ ”

  20. Nadia says:

    What do I do if I have quotations inside quotations inside quotations?
    Im quoting from a book for a project and it already has quotations inside quotations…

    • For quotations inside quotations inside quotations, alternate using single and double quotation marks.

      Example (note the placement of the period): I found a note that said, “Joe stopped by to inform us, ‘Al just told me, “I can’t go that day.” ‘ ”

  21. Michael says:

    Does it matter whether or not you put a space between them? Is it a stylistic preference? I’ve seen both of the following on this site.

    For example, “Joe said, ‘hello.’” Versus: “Joe said, ‘hello.’ ”

    • In the recently published eleventh edition of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, we added a rule recommending a visible space between adjacent single and double quotation marks. This is considered standard practice and a courtesy to the reader. We have not yet changed all of the previously written comments to reflect this change.

  22. Loretta says:

    Help! I’m working on my Master’s thesis and I can’t seem to find any place that explains how quotes within quotes work for the works cited page. If I’m citing a magazine article that uses double quotations within the title, do I change them to single quotations in the reference? Or keep them as double quotations?

    For example: (the article title: Adviser: Romney “shellshocked” by loss)

    Does MLA format require single quotations regardless of what the title used?
    Crawford, Jan. “Adviser: Romney ‘shellshocked’ by loss.” (etc.)

    Or do should I not change any of the title’s original formatting?
    Crawford, Jan. “Adviser: Romney “shellshocked” by loss.” (etc.)

    And to make matters more confusing, there are other articles that use single quotations in their titles! Does anyone know if I just stay true to whatever style (double or single quotations) are used in the original title?

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