What’s Up with Those Single Quotation Marks?

When to use double quotation marks:

1. The first use is, of course, to designate words in a quote.

Ex., The doctor said, “You really should cut down on your smoking.”

Ex., Then I said, “I can’t do that without going to a smoking cessation program.”

Note that in U.S.-American English, commas and periods go before the closing quotation marks.

2. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA, 2010) lists another occasion when double quotation marks are called for: “to introduce a word or phrase used as an ironic comment, as slang, or as an invented or coined expression” (p. 91).

Ex., This is considered “normal” behavior.

In the previous example, the writer is calling into question the whole concept of normality, which can at times be quite subjective.

Bell (2008) explains that when you use double quotation marks, you will render the sentence sarcastic, as in her following example:

Ex., People in many countries enjoy the “liberty” of voting for the only candidate on the ballot (p. 128).

She warns, however, not to use quotation marks with idiomatic expressions. “Quotes are not for showing your discomfort with a colloquial expression. Either make your peace with the idiom and use it without quotes, or choose another way to say what you mean” (p. 129).

Ex., That test was a piece of cake.

There is no need to put “piece of cake” in quotation marks.

3. APA (2010, p. 91) recommends using double quotation marks “to set off the title of an article or chapter in a periodical,” as in the next example.

Ex., Riger’s (1992) article, “Epistemological Debates, Feminist Voices: Science, Social Values, and the Study of Women” . . .

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