Communication Skills

JS Tip 248: From the Writing Workshops: Using Double and Single Quotation Marks

Happy New Year.

Our friend Jane Guyer Paine asked about quotation marks: “Would you do a tip on when to use single quotation marks and when to use double quotation marks?”

Sure. We can do that.

If you write for an American audience, you should enclose quotations with double quotation marks. If your quotation includes another quotation—a second quotation—enclose that quotation with single quotation marks (essentially, apostrophes).

Let’s suppose you’re briefing your boss on Ruby’s report:

Ruby writes, “The client’s position that ‘all disputes must be resolved in Alaskan state courts’ may be a problem.” I agree.

You’re quoting Ruby. Ruby’s quoting the client. A quotation within a quotation. The first quotation has double quotation marks; the second quotation has single quotation marks.

If, for some crazy reason, you have a quotation within a quotation within a quotation, you’d enclose the third quotation with double quotation marks. Double. Single. Double. We’ve never seen that. It’s too complicated. It confuses the reader.

If you write for a British audience, the standard is to begin with single quotation marks and use double quotation marks for quotations within the quotations. Oh, wow. Head starting to hurt.

If you have questions or comments, let us know. We love this stuff.

We have several requests in the queue. We appreciate your interest. Thank you.