Understanding Basic Grammar
A Quick-Reference Guide
Quotation marks are used to show that someone said something directly, which seems easy enough. The confusion occurs when using quotation marks in combination with other punctuation marks.
NOTE: Be sure to only use quotation marks when you are quoting someone directly. Do not use quotation marks when writing an indirect quote, which is simply a paraphrase. When using indirect quotes, be sure to state who said the information, but leave out the quotation marks.
These rules are best explained with examples. So, when using quotation marks, go to the category that applies to the sentence you are writing and use the examples as a guide.
Also, keep in mind that attribution refers to identifying who said the quote.
Finally, although it’s not incorrect to do otherwise, it is generally better to place the person before said, announced, replied or any other form of attribution. This is because the person saying the quote is more important than the word said, but if the person’s name, title or any other identifying information is placed next to the name is long, then it is best to write said first.
Quotation Mark Uses:
1. When the attribution comes before a quote:
► Laura said “I hope these examples will be helpful.”
As you can see, the quotation marks surround everything that the speaker said, but not the attribution. In cases where the attribution comes first, no comma is needed between the attribution and the quote. Also, be sure that the period is inside the quotation marks.
2. When the attribution comes in the middle of a quote:
► “It seems really hard to understand grammar,” she said, “but it is easy once you get the hang of it.”
In this case, the attribution is set off by commas, and the quotation marks go only around what the person actually said. Also, the period always goes inside the quotation marks, just like the comma does.
3. When the attribution comes at the end of a quote:
► “I would really like to go to the movies on Friday,” Carol said.
When the attribution comes at the end of a quote, a comma is used inside the quotation marks before the attribution to separate the two.
4. When attribution comes at the end of a sentence in a quote that contains more than one sentence:
Remember that multi-sentence quotes should be in one paragraph without any separate indentations, as long as the quote comes from the same source. Also, you don’t have to attribute the quote more than once in that paragraph, since the lack-of-indentation shows that it comes from the same source.
However, when you switch sources, indent and attribute the quote to the new speaker. This pattern continues, except in cases where there is lengthy dialogue between two people that clearly displays a back-and-forth motion of conversation. Attributing after each person would result in very cluttered writing.
► I would like to obtain an internship where I would write for a newspaper,” Tim said. “However, I would also consider an internship where I would be writing for a magazine.”
5. When attributing a multi-paragraph quotation to a single source without interruptions:
The least confusing way to do this is probably to announce the attribution first, and then to follow with the quote. Make sure to indent where you want a separate paragraph for a separate idea, but do not close the quotations until the speaker is completely finished speaking. Quotation marks should appear at the beginning of each paragraph to show that the speaker is continuing on, but they should not appear at the end of any paragraph until the end of the quote.
► Laura Kingsbury said the following about the website she was working to create:
“There were many parts of English grammar that I wanted to add to my website before I was finished making it.
“First of all, I definitely wanted to add a lot of information on punctuation. I felt like that was one of the most important reasons for creating this project for my technical writing class.
“Secondly, I also wanted to be sure to add a lot of information on words that people commonly misuse, because this is a personal pet peeve of mine.
“Lastly, I wanted to add information on the parts of speech. While it is not necessarily important to always be able to identify what part of speech each word in a sentence is, it is important to understand the functions of the parts of speech to help construct effective sentences.
“Furthermore, I hope that this website will actually be used. I spent countless hours creating it, in hopes that it would be a quick-reference guide to those who may be a bit confused about the fundamentals of writing.”
Remember that a colon should go before a quote of more than one sentence, and a comma should go before a one-sentence quote.
6. When using a partial quote:
A partial quote, also called an incomplete quote, is simply a word or a few words that come directly from a speaker but are not a full sentence. These partial quotes are used mostly in journalistic writing to show opinion of a source without using an entire direct quote.
► Melissa’s professor told her that her paper was “excellent.”
► Ken told the customer “absolutely” when asked if the store’s merchandise was affordable.
7. When placing a quote within another quote:
When quoting within a quote, use full quotation marks for the surrounding quote and single quotation marks for the inner quote.
Usually the inner quote is a partial quote, but this is not always the case. As you can imagine, this can sometimes get very confusing, so do not use often if you can avoid it.
► “I was told that the president thought the plan was ‘fabulous’ and that we could go ahead and get started,” Brian said.
► Ellen told her class “I believe the statement ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’”
As you can see in the second example, if the inside quote ends the sentence there should be a single quotation mark as well as the full quotation mark, resulting in three marks, one that closes the inner quote and two that close the larger quote.
8. To display a word used in a different way than it is not normally used in:
There are not specific rules for this type of quotation mark usage, but often times they are used around words to indicate humor, sarcasm, non- literal meanings or as a nickname.
Guidelines for using quotation marks with other punctuation marks:
· Commas and Periods: go inside closing quotation marks.
· Exclamation and Question Marks: go inside the quotation marks if they apply only to the quoted material, and they go outside the quotation marks if they apply to the entire sentence.
► “Do you think my mom will like her gift?” John asked. (the question applies only to the quoted words.
► Why did he insist that we “must log all of our meetings”? (the question applies to the entire sentence).
· Colons: should be used before quotations of more than one sentence, and go outside the quotation marks.
· Semicolons: go outside the quotation marks.