Use of Quotation Marks: The Four Functions of Quotation Marks in Written English

Use of Quotation Marks: The Four Functions of Quotation Marks in Written English
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Quotation Marks

Like other punctuation marks, quotation marks clarify written language for both readers and writers by marking quotations, titles, translations, and other words and phrases. Quotation marks perform four basic functions.

Enclose direct quotations

Use quotation marks to enclose direct quotations. Direct quotations are quotations that are repeated verbatim. For example:

  • President Franklin Roosevelt said, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
  • “These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease. They’re our enemies, not our fellow man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too — poverty, disease, and ignorance: we shall overcome,” said President Lyndon Johnson.

For quotations that span more than one paragraph, only place a closing quotation mark at the end of the entire quotation. Place an opening quotation mark at the beginning of each new paragraph. For example:

  • President Barack Obama addressed the nation, “My fellow citizens:

“I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

“Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.”

Do not use quotation marks to enclose indirect quotations. Indirect quotations are statements that are paraphrased from direct quotations. For example:

  • President Franklin Roosevelt said that December 7, 1941, the date of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, is a date that will live in infamy.
  • President Lyndon Johnson said that the American people could overcome the enemies of poverty, disease, and ignorance.

Do not use quotation marks to enclose block quotations. For example:

  • President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation on January 20, 1961, in his inaugural address:

We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of

freedom — symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning —

signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you

and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed

nearly a century and three-quarters ago.

Titles of minor works and parts of wholes

Use quotation marks with titles of minor works and parts of wholes. Minor works and smaller parts of whole works include short stories; magazine, newspaper, journal, and other periodical articles; short poems; essays; songs; one-act plays; speeches, lectures, and sermons; chapters; short films; and television and radio show episodes. For example:

  • My favorite Salman Rushdie essay is “Imaginary Homelands” from the book also entitled Imaginary Homelands.
  • “House of the Holy” is a song on the Led Zeppelin album Physical Graffiti.
  • The first chapter in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, “The Boy Who Lived,” explains how Harry came to live with the Dursleys.

Do not use quotation marks with titles of major works. Major works include books; magazines, newspapers, journals, and other periodicals; albums; full-length plays; and television and radio shows. Use italics (or underlining) for titles of major works. For example:

  • ER and House are medical drama television shows.
  • My favorite Everclear album is So Much for the Afterglow.
  • Many parents read The Pantagraph every morning.

Highlight novel uses of words and phrases

Use quotation marks around words and phrases to indicate a special sense of use. For example:

  • The motherboard is sometimes considered the “brain” of a computer.
  • I taught my puppy to wipe his “feet” when he enters the house.

Use quotation marks to indicate words and phrases being purposely misused or being used ironically. For example:

  • Our “friend” brought about our downfall.
  • You should always choose the lesser of two “weevils.”

Do not use quotation marks after introductory elements such as so-called or supposed. For example:

  • *Our so-called “friend” brought about our downfall.
  • Our so-called friend brought about our downfall.


Use quotation marks for the translation of a foreign word of phrase. For example:

  • The German phrase man ist was man isst “one is what one eats” is a popular idiom.
  • Café con leche “coffee with milk” is a popular drink in Spain.

Other punctuation marks within quotation marks

Place periods, commas, question marks, and exclamation marks inside closing quotation marks for direct quotations. For example:

  • “Please walk the dog,” the woman said.
  • The teacher stated, “All essays must be turned in on Monday.”
  • “Where is your brother?” my mom asked.
  • The waitress asked, “Would you like more coffee?”
  • “Tomorrow is Christmas!” exclaimed the children.
  • The toddler screamed, “I don’t want to go to bed!”

Place colons and semicolons outside closing quotation marks. For example:

  • One of my favorite Eagle-Eye Cherry songs is “Desireless”; I particularly enjoy the fusion of rock, blues, and Native American music.
  • I need a new copy of “Imaginary Homelands”: mine is ripped and tattered.
  • Do not place periods inside closing quotation marks when followed by a parenthetical citation. For example:

According to The Brief Penguin Handbook, narrative paragraphs are paragraphs that “tell a story for a reason” (42).

Place question marks and exclamation marks outside closing quotation marks when the punctuation applies to the entire sentence. For example:

  • Did the professor say, “We will all meet at the library tomorrow”?
  • I cannot believe you like the song “Hey There Delilah”!

For more information on other punctuation marks within quotation marks, please read:

Printable Download

The accompanying printable reference sheet of the rules for using colons in English is available for download at The Use of Quotation Marks in Written English Reference Sheet.