Quotation Marks

Learning Objective:

  • Correctly punctuate sentences containing quotation marks.

You probably use quotation marksA set of single or double inverted commas (' ' or " ") that are placed around a word or passage to mark the beginning and end of a direct quotation or a title. without even thinking about their purpose. They are used to set off material that is either quoted from another textWords that make up a book, essay, article, poem, or speech. or spoken, as in dialogueSpoken conversation described in written form, such as the script for a movie. in a novel. They are also used for titles of certain works. In this lesson, you will learn how to correctly use quotation marks in direct quotationsAn exact copy of the words from a speech or text. These words are placed inside quotation marks to show that they are a perfect repeat of the original. , in dialogue, and in setting off titles of short works.

Direct Quotation vs. Indirect Quotation

A direct quotation contains the exact words that someone said or wrote, while an indirect quotationA summary or paraphrase of another’s words or ideas. An indirect quotation does not require quotation marks. is a summaryA brief restatement of an author’s main idea and major supporting details. Summaries are factual and should be written in the third-person with an objective point of view. or paraphraseThe use of different words to express the meaning of an original text or speech. of another's words. Direct quotations require quotation marks; indirect quotations do not.

Example of a direct quotation: My father said, "There is no way that you are leaving my house in that outfit!"

Example of an indirect quotation: My father told my sister that she could not leave the house in her current outfit.

Hint: If there are no quotation marks, but there is a dialogue tagWords that show when and who speaks in a written work. Examples: Tom said, "This is the worst movie I've ever seen!" "Be quiet," she whispered., such as, he said or she said, along with the word that (as in the example above), it likely indicates an indirect quotation, especially when quoting what someone said. When quoting text, that often comes before a partial quotation (see below), which requires quotation marks.


In narrativeA story or account of events that is written or told. writing, characters often speak to each other. In standard practice, quotation marks identify these instances. The same rules apply in any form of writing that captures people speaking to one another, including articles in magazines and newspaper and reports written by law enforcement and medical professionals.

There are several rules you should keep in mind as you punctuateTo use punctuation marks in a text. direct quotations and dialogue.

  1. Place the speaker's words in quotation marks. Separate the quotation from the dialogue tag with a comma(,) A punctuation mark used to group and separate information in sentences..

"You may not hand in work late," said the teacher.

  1. CapitalizeTo use capital letters. the first letter of a quotation if the quotation is a complete sentence.

The teacher said, "You may not hand in work late."

  1. When the dialogue tag interrupts the quotation, separate both parts of the quotation from the dialogue tag with commas; however, do not capitalize the second part of the quotation.

"You may not hand in work late," said the teacher, "even if you are ill."

  1. A partial quotation is when you use just part of a quotation. In this case, do not put a comma between the dialogue tag and the quoted material. Additionally, do not capitalize the first word in the quotation.

In his most famous speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. revealed that his dream was one where "my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

  1. The end punctuationThe punctuation at the end of a sentence, which can be a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point. The end punctuation helps define the tone and meaning of a sentence. Notice the difference in tone in these examples: Someone ate my last cookie! (I'm really mad about that.) Someone ate my last cookie. (Oh well, I wasn't hungry anyway.) Someone ate my last cookie? (I'm not sure I even had another cookie.) usually goes inside the quotation marks. If the person referred to in the dialogue tag asked a question or spoke excitedly, the question mark or exclamation point goes inside the quotation marks.

Sam asked, "Do you think that the instructor will let me turn my homework in a day late?"

Maria shouted, "I finally finished my essay!"

In certain cases involving exclamation points and question marks, however, the punctuation goes outside of the quotation marks. If the writer of the sentence, rather than the speaker, is the one asking the question or writing excitedly, the exclamation point goes outside of the quotation marks.

Can you believe that she walked in here and said, "I quit"?

I cannot believe that she walked in and said, "I quit"!

  1. If the person referred to in the dialogue tag quotes someone, that quotation should be in single quotation marks.

She responded, "I'm surprised she said 'I quit.' I'm shocked she'd leave her job with this company!"


Quotation marks are also used to set off the titles of short works. Use quotation marks to set off titles of "smaller" works, that is, works that make up portions of a larger, whole work, such as:

For example:

Though all of George Saunders' short stories are remarkable, I found "Tenth of December" to be almost life-changing.

Why do I find myself whistling "Singin’ in the Rain" when it is snowing?