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Quotation marks, also called quote marks, quotes, speech marks or inverted commas, are used in a number of situations. Their main use is to show the start and end of direct speech and passages by other writers. They are also used for the title of certain works and for various terms.

Direct speech should always be enclosed with quotation marks. For example: “I don’t think we should go in there,” Joan said. Also, “The last time we were here,” he said, “the door was locked fast.” Note that the marks go around only those words that were actually spoken. Commas and periods are usually placed inside the quote marks. No quotes are used for indirect speech, such as: He said that we could go inside after our tickets are confirmed.

Any passage of text by another writer should be enclosed in quotation marks, such as in the following example. According to Adams, the government “did not get serious about secondary education until well into the 1950s”. If the statement is paraphrased rather than quoted directly, then quote marks would not be used. In this case, the writer might say something like: Adams felt that the government didn’t do much towards secondary education before the late 1950s (but still cite the source).

Other uses of quotation marks are to enclose the title of an unpublished work, a chapter of a book, a journal article, a newspaper or magazine article, a lecture, an essay, a poem and a song.

Titles of unpublished works are usually enclosed with quotes. For example: His thesis for his master degree was called “A Sociological Study of Urban Legends”. Similarly, the chapter name of a book has quotation marks. For example: The second chapter, “Crime rates in other countries”, compares crime in the main OECD countries outside North America. Note that italics are used for the titles of published works and names of newspapers and journals rather than quote marks, although quote marks are often used online where italics aren’t possible. A lecture or paper has quotation marks, for example: Brown will deliver a paper, “Are we drowning in phoney statistics?”, at the forthcoming conference. For poems: She read her poem, “Street fighter”, at the poetry festival.

Quote marks can also be used for technical terms, for specially coined phrases or words, to show irony, and for things like colloquialisms and nicknames.

Technical terms are often enclosed in quotes, for example: The term “condylar resorption” describes a type of joint disorder. When a word or phrase is used in a specific sense, it often appears in quotation marks, such as: The public sector suffers “cost disease” as productivity stagnates over a long period. In the above two examples, quotes are usually only used at first mention; subsequent mentions do not need them. Alternatively, terms used can be italicised instead of using quote marks. Quotation marks are sometimes used to emphasise irony, as in: The government’s “policy” to reduce congestion was to build more freeways. Colloquialisms might appear in quotation marks, such as: They took him away in the “funny wagon”. A nickname can be enclosed in quotes, for example, Nat “King” Cole.

The use of single (‘ ’) or double (“ ”) quote marks varies geographically. Double marks are the norm in the United States and Canada. Both double and single marks are common in the United Kingdom and Australia. If a publisher or business has a particular preference, this should be used in all documents. Never use a mixture of single and double quotes in a document, or both straight and curly marks.

Sometimes you might want to quote a passage that already includes quotation marks around part of it. For nesting quotes, or quotes within a quote, use single marks if the document uses double marks; use double marks if the document uses single marks. For example: As Dave recalled, “The teacher said, ‘This is what to expect in the exam,’ and there was silence.”

The placement of other punctuation with quotation marks differs between countries. In the United States, any comma or period is usually placed before the closing quote mark (although a semicolon and a colon come after the quote mark). In the United Kingdom and Australia, the usual practice is to put the comma after the closing quote mark. The full stop or period will go after the closing quotation mark if the quote only includes the last part of the sentence and before the closing mark if the quote covers the whole sentence. In fiction writing, the comma and full stop usually come before the closing quotation mark in these two countries.

There are several situations where quote marks aren’t used. A quotation of more than about two lines is often set in a block and indented from the rest of the text, in which case quote marks are not needed. Sometimes in newspapers and magazines, if a quote covers several paragraphs, an opening quote mark will appear at the start of each paragraph but a closing quote mark will only appear at the end of the last paragraph of the quoted material.

Plays and transcripts do not need quotation marks. In these documents, the speakers are identified by name, followed by what they say. For example, John: We have to get out of here. Sandra: (looking around) I think we’re trapped.

In summary, quotation marks are used for direct speech and to show text by another writer. They are also used for the title of certain written works and for particular types of terms, words and phrases. Quotations marks aren’t used for paraphrased speech or statements, block quotes that are indented, or transcripts and plays.