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Quotation Marks Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 22, 2011

Quotation Marks

I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW (1856–1950)

IRISH PLAYWRIGHT

Dialogue can move stories along and bring a character to life more than plain words can. Knowing how to punctuate different forms of dialogue correctly is useful for all writers, and this lesson will show you how to do just that.

Quotation marks are used in writing to signify the exact words that someone has said, which we call a direct quotation. Direct quotations require the use of opening and ending quotation marks.

"If your homework is finished, you may go to the movies with Charles," Mom told Peter.

Tip

When someone merely refers to what someone else said rather than repeating it exactly, that is called an indirect quotation. Do not use quotation marks with indirect quotations.

Mom told Peter that he could go to the movies with Charles if his homework was finished.

or for someone's thoughts:

Incorrect: "Mom is being reasonable," thought Peter.

Correct:  Mom is being reasonable, thought Peter.

When writing a quotation, you must capitalize the first word.

Fred whined, "Gee, I'm hungry."

The only exception is when the quotation has an interrupter. Unless the continuation begins with a proper noun, a proper adjective, or the pronoun I, the first word of the continuation begins with a lowercase letter.

"I thought," continued Fred, "we were going to eat lunch an hour ago."

Notice that each part of the quotation is enclosed in quotation marks. Also note that the first part of the quote ends with a comma (indicating that more will follow) and the interrupting words are followed by a comma before the quotation continues.

Only periods, question marks, and exclamation points are placed inside the end quotes of a quotation. Colons and semicolons should be placed on the outside.

Notice that a comma is placed before the opening quotes when they are preceded by introductory words (such as said, stated, or interjected).

Hannah said, "This concert is great!"; her friends agreed.

Tip

Sometimes, question marks and exclamation points belong outside the quotation marks. This occurs when the entire sentence calls for that punctuation mark. For example:

    Why did Lindsay say "Michael will not go"?
    You annoy me when you say "I can't"!

When a quote is a statement that ends with a period, but concluding words follow the quotation, you must change the period to a comma.

"I don't like spinach or asparagus," Raul said.

Quotation marks can be used—but only sparingly—to indicate sarcasm or irony.

Anxious to meet her friends, Shelby quickly "cleaned" her room so she could leave.

This sentence implies that Shelby did not clean her room in the manner expected. She cleaned her room quickly and with little effort.

A practice exercie for this concept can be found at Quotation Marks Practice Exercise.

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