Grammar Lesson: Quotation Marks

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Dec 15, 2010

When working with quotation marks (" "), follow these rules. This is the first of three pages about quotation marks.

  1. Use quotation marks before and directly after a speaker's exact words.
      The lifeguard told the swimmers, "Please move down between the green flags."
  2. Note: Use a comma to separate the speaker's exact words from the sentence's other parts.

      "Please move down between the green flags," the lifeguard told the swimmers.

    Note: You do not have to use quotation marks around an indirect quotation.

      The lifeguard told the beachgoers to move between the green flags if they wanted to go into the water.

    Note: A direct quotation usually begins with a capital letter. If the quotation is not in its entirety, it often begins with a lowercase letter.

      Mikki believes that "honesty is its own reward."
  3. If a direct quotation that is a full sentence is broken up into two parts because the speaker is identified, the second part begins with a lowercase letter.
      "Since the flowers are starting to bloom," said Chris, "we should not step into the garden."
  4. Note: If the second part of a direct quotation is a complete sentence, start that part with a capital letter. Insert a period after the unquoted portion.

      "This is beautiful!" responded Mrs. Alsager. "Keep it going!"

    Note: If a person's exact words are more than a single sentence and are not divided, use only a single set of quotation marks.

      "Waves gently lapped the shore. Children played in the sand," the man reported.
  1. Use a question mark or an exclamation mark within the closing quotation mark if the question mark or the exclamation mark is part of the quotation.
      "Is this the correct tool?" the assistant asked the machinist.
      The soldier screamed to his comrade, "Move away now!"
  2. Note: If a question mark or an exclamation mark is a part of the whole sentence (and not just a part of the direct quotation), place the mark outside the quotation marks.

      Did Mr. Boland say, "You have only two choices left"? (The entire sentence, not the quotation, is a question.)
      I was so ecstatic when Jenny said, "You are our choice for class rep"! (The entire sentence, not the quotation, is the exclamation.)
  3. Use a comma, exclamation mark, or question mark to separate the direct quotation from the rest of the sentence. A period cannot do the same.
      "Please help me lift this rug," Mom requested Roberta.
      "This is absolutely awesome!" the captain told her crew.
      "Will it be sunny tomorrow?" the news anchor asked her staff.
  4. Place colons and semicolons outside the closing quotation mark.
      There are two main characters in O. Henry's story "The Gift of the Magi": Jim and Della.
      Karen remarked, "These two cars are full of supplies for the picnic"; only then did we realize that there was no room for any additional passengers.
  1. When you are writing dialogue, start a new paragraph each time the speaker changes.
      "We need to remodel the upstairs bathroom," Mom said to Dad.
      He asked her, "How much do you think that this job will cost us? I think that I will probably be able to do most of the work."
      "Great!" Mom replied. "Let's talk about the project again tomorrow."
  2. Use only the opening quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph when you are quoting a passage of more than one paragraph. The only time to include the closing quotation marks is at the end of the concluding paragraph.
      "The bridge was built after the immigrants began to come into the burgeoning city in large numbers. This bridge was not a luxury; it was a necessity. People demanded it, and the politicians responded quickly to their demands.
      "Then the good times for construction workers began—and continued—for the next three decades. There was always work—and plenty of it. To be able to use a saw and hammer meant that you were able to feed your family."
  3. Use quotation marks to enclose the titles of the following: chapters, songs, articles, short poems, and short stories.
      "Before Hitting the Water" (chapter) from Kayaking for Fitness
      "America the Beautiful" (song)
      "More Strain, More Injuries" (article)
    • "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (short poem)
      "Beware of the Dog" (short story)
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