Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Quotation Marks: Everybody's Talking

Alisa asked about quotation marks. When do you use single quotation marks as opposed to double quotation marks. You know, one finger air quotes, or two finger air quotes?

Let's start basic and get more complex. Feel free to drop out anywhere along the way. Well, be sure to learn what you need, and then drop out.

Basic uses for quotation marks:

Quotation marks are used to surround the exact words of a speaker. You do not use quotation  marks if you're just giving the general idea of what someone said or putting it in your own words.
               NOT: The Princess told me "she likes cake," if you mean that The Princess is the one who likes cake (she does). She may be a princess, but she almost certainly did not use the exact words "she likes cake," when referring to her own love for goodies.
You don't use quotation marks after the word that as in:
              The Hillbilly said that he was going fishing.
Now sometimes we don't actually use the word that when we could:
             The Hillbilly said he was going fishing.
If that would make sense without changing the meaning, don't use quotation marks.

So, quotation marks. Exact words. Got it.

Another use for quotation marks is in the name of a short story, chapter, poem, episode of a television program, etc. In other words, a small piece that could be part of a larger piece. The larger piece (a book , a play, or entire television series) should be italicized or underlined.

But what about those single quotation marks?

               Alyssa said, "The Monster's first sentence was, 'Go bye bye.' The Princess said her first sentence much later."
 Use single quotation marks inside a quotation about something someone said. I quoted Alyssa, and she quoted The Monster. The double quotation marks are around Alyssa's exact words. The single quotes are around The Monster's exact words. Now if The Monster had also quoted someone, we would have reverted to double quotation marks within the single quotation. Don't worry though because he's 19 months old, and he's never quoted anyone. Just know that you want to alternate doubles and singles for quotes within quotes within quotes....

And, well, really that's it. The only time you use single quotation marks is when writing a quotation within a quotation. I suppose I could have just said that in the first place, but you know how teachers are. We have to make sure you get it all.

Just for fun let's get all quotation happy and color code quotations within quotations:

Helen said, "I received this letter from John which says, 'I agree with Mark Twain who said, "A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read. " I'm sure you agree as well.' I do agree, but my favorite quote from Twain is, 'A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.' Experience really is the best teacher."

Red = Helen
Blue = John
Pink = Twain as quoted by John
Green= Twain as quoted by Helen

Helpful or confusing?
If you learned something new, let me know in the comments. It makes me feel useful. Also, be sure to ask any other grammar or punctuation questions you have. You know I love to answer those!