Researchers often struggle with deciding when to use single vs. double quotation marks. And we understand that this can be a confusing issue, as different style guides and language traditions offer different guidance on the subject. In this blog post, we will explore the differences in the usage of single vs. double quotation marks, and provide guidelines for when to use each type.
When to use single quotation marks
- Quoting within a quote: Single quotation marks are used when you have a quotation within a quotation. For example, you may be writing an article about a particular book that contains a direct quote. The book itself might contain a quote from a different source, and in this situation, you would use single quotation marks to enclose the quote within the quote.
For example: “The professor said, ‘As John Stuart Mill famously wrote, “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”‘”
In this example, the quote within the professor’s statement is enclosed in single quotation marks.
- Titles of short works: Single quotation marks can be used to enclose the titles of short works such as poems, songs, or chapters. This is because the titles of these works are often shorter and more concise.
For example, you might write, “In the poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost, the speaker reflects on the choices he has made in life.”
- Emphasis: Single quotation marks can be used to emphasize a word or phrase within a sentence.
For example, you might write, “The so-called ‘expert’ provided us with inaccurate information.”
By enclosing the word ‘expert’ in single quotation marks, you are indicating that you do not believe this person is truly an expert.
When to use double quotation marks
- Direct quotes: Double quotation marks are used to indicate direct quotes.
For example, you might write, “According to the article, ‘The weather this weekend will be sunny and warm.'” The phrase “The weather this weekend will be sunny and warm” is a direct quote, so it is enclosed in double quotation marks to indicate this.
- Titles of longer works: Double quotation marks can be used to enclose the titles of longer works such as books, plays, or movies. These works are generally longer and more complex than short works, so double quotation marks are used to set them apart.
For example, you might write, “The play ‘Hamlet’ by William Shakespeare is a classic tragedy that explores themes of revenge and mortality.”
- Quotation in titles: Double quotation marks can be used to enclose a quotation within a title.
For example, you might write, “The novel ‘The ‘God of Small Things’’ by Arundhati Roy explores the lives of a family in India.”
The title of the book contains a quote within it, so double quotation marks are used to enclose the quote within the title.
General guidelines for the usage of single vs. double quotation marks
- In British English, single quotation marks are generally preferred, while American English tends to use double quotation marks (read this article to gain further clarity on this).
- When a quotation appears within a quotation, use the opposite type of quotation mark to enclose it. For example, if you have a direct quote that contains a quote within it, you would use double quotation marks to enclose the outer quote and single quotation marks to enclose the inner quote.
- Use quotation marks sparingly and only when necessary. Overuse of quotation marks can be distracting to the reader and make your writing appear cluttered.
- In some cases, it may be appropriate to use italics instead of quotation marks to indicate titles of longer works. This is often the case in academic writing, where italics are used to indicate book titles, while quotation marks are used for direct quotes.
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