Top Punctuation Howlers – Quotation Marks

You’ll Love the “Chicken” at Toucan’s Bayou Kitchen!

Besides quoting another person or organization, quotation marks can imply more than meets the eye.

Notice the difference between the following two menu items:

Today’s special: Chicken

Today’s special: “Chicken”

The former implies what we all know as chicken; however, the latter implies it could be anything. Perhaps it’s skunk that’s been stewing in chicken stock or it could be so good, it’s hard to believe it’s actually chicken.

Don’t leave your audience guessing! Always deliver a clear message to your readers. Try out these quotation mark tips to maintain your credibility.

Use quotation marks for direct quotations and dialogue.

“Today’s special is chicken,” said Toucan. “Get it while it’s fresh!”

“You fail only if you stop writing.” – Ray Bradbury.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Be polite to all, but intimate with few.”

Quotation marks can be used to indicate irony or skepticism, but should not be overused.*

“It’s okay, you can ‘attack’ me,” said Lynn.

“What’s with the quotation fingers?” Bob Wilton asked. “It’s like saying I’m only capable of ironic attacking or something.”

– The Men Who Stare at Goats, 2009

*Quotation marks are not needed after the words or phrases so-called, known as, and called.

This so-called chicken … Is it really a chicken or is it a skunk in disguise?

When quoting lines of text that are indented (generally used when quotations are 100 words or more), then quotation marks are not needed.*

    In his commencement address to the MIT class of ’97, Kurt Vonnegut offered this advice:

    Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

    Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

    Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own…

*For non-indented quotations that run over multiple paragraphs (and it’s not dialogue), don’t add a quotation mark at the end of the paragraph unless it’s the last sentence of the quotation.

When a quote is introduced indirectly, then quotation marks are not needed.

Oscar Wilde declared that a gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.

When familiar phrases of literary origin, colloquial phrases, proverbs, etc., are used, then there is no need for quotation marks.

Growing up in the heart of New York City had its highs and lows. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Slow down, Jerry! Haste makes waste.

The question mark (?), the exclamation mark (!), and the dash (-) go inside the quotation mark when they belong to the quotation. Otherwise they occur outside the quote.

Didn’t Marie Antoinette say, “Let them eat cake”?

Many historians assert that Marie Antoinette never exclaimed, “Let them eat cake!”

It may not seem correct at times, but the comma always belongs inside quotations marks.

Who doesn’t love Shel Silverstein’s poems “Danny O’Dare,” “Bear In There,” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends”?

Use quotation marks on titles of short stories, poems, essays, articles, television shows, radio programs, and songs.

After reading Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening,” I began “The Storm.”

Use these quotation tips to strengthen your writing skills, as well as maintain your credibility as an Expert Author. We will have more punctuation howlers coming up in the next few weeks, so stop by the Blog for the latest and greatest tips to error-free articles.

Did you miss our last edition of Top Punctuation Howlers? Find out more about the semicolon here!


David Chester writes:

Please explain the difference in use of single (‘) or of double (“) inverted commas, as quotation marks.

Except for dialogue, the single mark should normally be sufficient, or what?

Comment provided August 17, 2012 at 9:40 AM


Ulki Goswami writes:

Looking forward to more tips on quotation marks.



You are correct, the single quote’s (‘) primary job is to punctuate a quote, or emphasized phrase, within a quote.



understand now..thank you!


Lance Winslow writes:

I have a few questions on all this, I am a bit confused, but I am chicken to ask you. How do I write that is it “I am a chicken to ask you,” or I am chicken to ask you?”

Comment provided August 17, 2012 at 9:51 AM



You got it right in your first sentence. It would be without the quotation marks since it is not a direct quote … If I understand what you’re asking.



Lance Winslow writes:

Thank you, I’ve been so challenged with proper grammar, and got a D+ in journalism in junior high, worst grade I ever got, didn’t write much after, tried to avoid it as much as possible in HS and College, it wasn’t until after retirement that I got into heavy writing. I’ve been learning as I go, most of what I’ve learned, I think I learned wrong, and read quite a bit, which is where I pick things up. But one challenge now is all the bad grammar online, it’s as if the era of fine literature along with good mechanics, sentence structure, spelling, and grammar have been totally destroyed and lately with Twitter, it’s as if half the population cannot put together a proper sentence and when we get into the hard stuff (which is why I like these types of blog posts) I can certainly see why people are challenged, half the time I just take a swinging guess and go for it like Super Chicken!


Stephen Monday writes:

Hello Lance,

The answer would be neither of your suggestions..haha, (but you said you were confused)

As you suggested:

I have a few questions on all this, I am a bit confused, but I am chicken to ask you.

How do I write that is it “I am a chicken to ask you,” or I am chicken to ask you?”

“When a quote is introduced indirectly, then quotation marks are not needed.”

Oops, but that read “indirectly” and you directly wrote I must be the one who was confused.

Oh well – I must read that again.

Best Regards,

Stephen Monday

Comment provided August 17, 2012 at 10:30 AM


Edmund Sykes writes:

Hi Stephen

You clearly are no a chicken or your would be laying eggs rather than writing. Therefore, I think you could write: Am I a “chicken” to ask you?

Best wishes



Edmund Sykes writes:

Hi Penny

I thought we had just done this topic? Here is one I would welcome your advice on:

Misinformed or mis-informed; unbelievable or un-believable; demotivation or de-motivation.

Where do we use the hyphen to split compound words? Otherwise, do we end up with a German-like “youcancompoundasmanywordsas possible”

Such fun, thank you.


Comment provided August 17, 2012 at 10:40 AM



The use of hyphens is a topic all on its own. We’ll have to do an upcoming blog post on that! :-)

In the case of your examples, none of those words would be hyphenated … except, perhaps, the German-like one!



Edmund Sykes writes:

Hi Marc

I look forward to it.

In this week’s Bagehot column in The Economist we have: “no-frills airlines”; “put-upon”;”-caught betweem adolescent children and senescent parents-“; “20-somethings”; “50-something parents”; “mid-40s”; “-an age when, in the past, people were liberated …-“; “-those most worthy of fellow passengers’ …-“; “its peak comes earlier – as at a glance the people who run the country attests.”(surely attest); “super-achievers”; “well-to-do”; “pin-up”; “-call it generation Xhausted-“; “well-being”; “-the new mid-life crisis-“; “relationship-support”; “Final-straw”; “high-speed”.

Wow! This is a single article in a very famous and learned newspaper (and I may have missed some). But it seems to me that the hyphen needs some explanation – it has certainly evolved since I was at school.

Best wishes – Edmund


Kieran Gracie writes:

I never knew that the comma must always be inside the quotation marks. I bow to your advice but I think it still looks wrong!

Comment provided August 17, 2012 at 10:49 AM


Edmund Sykes writes:

Hi Kieran

This subject was debated previously, I agree that the punctuation should be outside the inverted commas unless the original quote includes the punctuation. This may be a UK vs. US thing.

So if I say that, in his reply, Kieran says “I bow to your advice”, however, I think he is wrong. I believe that I am correct in my punctuation.

But if I write (as you have done above) Kieran said “I never knew that the comma must always be inside the quotation marks.”, then I believe that the period (full stop) should be within the inverted commas.

Bring on the debate!


Ulki Goswami writes:


I often ghostwrite articles for US and UK websites and I find your tips awesome. Keep them coming.


Birdhouses writes:

I’ve always believed that having the double punctuation is wrong. I believe the correct way to punctuate your second example is as follows:

…Kieran said, “I never knew that the comma must always be inside the quotation marks,” then I believe…


Edmund Sykes writes:

Hi Birdhouses,

I completely agree with you as does The Economist Style Guide and Eats Shoots & Leaves so I deeply apologise to anyone I may have mislead.

Thank you for pointing it out.




Russ writes:

Hey how bout addressing the comma usage PRIOR to the quotation. I notice you do it both ways. Didn’t so and so say, “Let them…
and you have
Kate Chaplins “The…

Comment provided August 17, 2012 at 3:50 PM


Randall Magwood writes:

I almost never use the single quotation marks instead of the regular double quotation marks. The only exception to this is when I insert an apostrophe into specific words (ie: I’m, He’s, She’s, They’re, Wasn’t, etc.)

Comment provided August 17, 2012 at 4:23 PM


Dave Haslett writes:

This article only considers American English. The last two points are incorrect in British English, where commas and other punctuation go outside the quotes – except for dialogue where there’s a speech tag (said John, Anne asked, etc) immediately following.

Also British English prefers single quotes to double quotes. Double quotes are used when quoting within dialogue.

So your example (adapted for the UK) would read:
After reading Kate Chopin’s ‘The Awakening’, I began ‘The Storm’.

Having said that, the current UK preference for titles is to render them in italics and not enclose them within quotes.

An example of UK double quotes and dialogue:
‘Wasn’t it Descartes who said “I think, therefore I am”?’ John asked.

Comment provided August 17, 2012 at 7:46 PM


Owen Jones writes:

I think that’s the other way around, isn’t it?

” ” is normal dialogue. ‘ ‘ is used within dialogue in the UK.



Edmund Sykes writes:

Sorry to take so long to reply to this one, I have been doing quite a bit of research.

I would say that although the single quote, with double quotes for speech within the single quote, is correct UK English, many UK writers are targeting an international market and mainstream British newspapers, whose websites are widely read in the USA, are adopting the US method, as well as are many European novelists and translators into the English language, which is the opposite tradition of that formerly practised as standard within Great Britain and, therefore, in my opinion, the US orthodoxy is likely to become standard within the English speaking world within a very few years, should this trend continue.

That is nearly a Proustian sentence!

Best wishes, Edmund


Owen Jones writes:


I have problems mapping dialogue to a page especially when it spans several paragraphs.

Is thought treated like speech?

and when the actual spoken/thought sentence ends in a ? or !, do you add a full-stop outside the quotation marks?

Otherwise the final ” is technically in the next sentence or just left hanging.

UK and uS punctuation differs on the full-stop without other exclamation marks, I know. I like the full-stop outside as it locks the sentence together.

This is a useful series.
It would be helpful to know when you are teaching UK or US style though.


Comment provided August 18, 2012 at 1:13 AM


Valerie writes:

Still along the lines of quotation marks. I’d like to see you discuss people who use quote marks around their slogan. I see it in email signatures, business cards, brochures, etc.

Comment provided August 18, 2012 at 10:06 AM



I’m always confused about where to place the comma and period when using quotation marks for the title of a story or article. For example: My short story, “A Face in the Window,” is part of an anthology. It seems like the quote should be before the comma, and I puzzle over it every time.

Thank you so much for addressing this.

Mary Montague Sikes

Comment provided August 18, 2012 at 10:27 AM


Dave Keays writes:

My way- whether it is right or wrong- is to let the content being quoted dictate how to use the quotation marks. There is a good chance that if there is a quotation mark involved then other text is involved too. If the punctuation (comma, exclamation, question, et.cetera) is INSIDE the text being quoted then the punctuation goes between the quotation marks. So sometimes people claim I’m using British grammar, which I admit I don’t feel embarrassed about.

Comment provided August 18, 2012 at 8:02 PM


Tom Nolan writes:

Another great article but please do remember that US rules do not necessarily apply all over the English speaking world. As many others have written, in the UK, commas do not always appear inside the quotation marks. Over here, we use the same logic (and common sense) that you apply to exclamation and question marks.

Comment provided August 19, 2012 at 1:23 AM


Owen Jones writes:

Well said.


Veronique writes:

I second that. I was taught British English first before I got into American English. As a French speaking person, my preference is still to British English.


Tim writes:

I don’t know why, but a lot of people seem to think that quotes are used to add emphasis to a word. WRONG! That’s what underlining, boldface or italics are for. Unless it’s for a direct quotation, quotes are usually used to denigrate something: “That was the worst example of ‘singing’ I’ve ever heard.”

Comment provided August 19, 2012 at 7:57 PM


Lance Winslow writes:

Tim, whereas, I agree with you that “it’s wrong” I will continue to use quotation marks for emphasis and if the rest of the world doesn’t like it – tough luck for them – because the internet is changing such things, and the old way is out, and everyone else needs to get with the new program. That’s the way I see it. Besides that, I’ve always had a problem with English teachers and most writers, they love to enforce nonsensical rules – let the world evolve. Quotations for emphasis now is so common and since there are a trillion webpages, that means all the past written recorded history pales in comparison. We’ve changed that rule, we win, the world must adapt. See that point.


Edmund Sykes writes:

Wow, that is a tough stance, Lance.

Sure, rules are made to be broken but they are still rules. Yes, language adapts. However, just because someone has written it on the internet doesn’t make it correct English.

There are many books, from Chaucer, through ShakespeareThe KJAV Bible to Dickens and all the other centuries of wonderful contributions to English literature which have changed spelling, punctuation and emphases.

I am not sure that comparing the trillion webpages, of which most will not stand the test of time, with the output of the most celebrated and read authors, who surely will, is a valid reason for making up your own rules.

Otherwise, everyone would write in the txt language that my children use from their mobiles for SMS and would they pass their exams that way? My Vote is with Tim.



Tim writes:

Although a lot of people misuse quotes, I don’t see a huge movement to do so. It’s really just enough to make those who do so look dumb. It just shows off their lack of education, and I wouldn’t do so just to try to start a “movement” (see my use of quotes)? Actually, the present use of quotes serves a very useful purpose and I see no need to change it out of ignorance. If you want to emphasize, use the italics tag.


Owen Jones writes:

Right behind you, Tim.

However, some people actually use a pen and paper and italics are not easy to write, in which case underlining is best.



Owen Jones writes:

I agree with you, Tim.

You need rules – a convention – so that everybody understands what the writer is trying to convey.
It is nonsense for people to make up their own rules, because they don’t know what is correct

Let them get a grammar book or take classes, but let’s all do it (at least roughly) the same.

Quotation marks do not emphasize anything but ambiguity and I see no evidence that the Internet is changing the way English is applied.

Mobile phones do, to some extent.


Lance Winslow writes:

Boy, I wish I had more respect for education, I really do, but I just don’t. When it comes to quotation marks for emphasis studies show that since more people are right handed, and on the modern day English keyboards the quotation key is on the right side, there is far more use of quotations by the right handed majority. Incidentaly, more exclamation points by lefties.

Using quotation marks for emphasis will become the new way, because it is easier, plus, speech recognition also makes it easy to transition when writing with that technology. Also ALL CAPS to show emphasis is coming up more. I applaud this, because, EVERYONE knows exactly what it means. It’s simple, it makes sense, and it’s time to adapt and move forward.

The journalists of the world will have to have to take a back seat on this one provided there are any left in a decade or so as AI will be writing the news. I am sorry for all the purists out there, I know “change” comes hard for some, I wish them all the best trying to jack out of their boxes, but less this notification become your spring, no sense in allowing only the Arab nations all the fun.

For far too long the masses have had to listen to the journalists and their jaded views of reality, far too often have those who might write well had an unfair advantage in their opinion based control of the masses. The Internet is here, and perhaps this is just a diffusion of power, now given back to the people.

These rules were all made before the Internet, so, they will have to move aside now, sorry to say. What is considered wrong, is now the norm, therefore, the evolution continues, as it should. Things are moving faster these days, do not stand in the way; quotations for emphasis I deem okay!


Tim writes:

Your “argument” (see my quotation marks there?) defeats itself. First you talk about how quotes are easier to type on the keyboard, but then you move on to speech recognition. Surely, if voice dictation catches on, it will make keyboards unnecessary, and therefore it won’t matter what is easier to type. Besides, quote marks serve a very useful purpose, such as in ridiculing silly “arguments” like yours.


Edmund Sykes writes:

The double quotation marks on my UK keyboard are shift-2 i.e. hold the shift key and press the number 2. This makes it quite a complex symbol to type. Maybe a US keyboard is very different. The single quotation mark is below the @ sign, much easier to use, but all you good people are using ” rather than ‘.

Still, Lance, I side with Tim. Yes language can evolve, but only by consensus does it become mainstream and there appears to be a lack of such on this page which is, afterall, on the internet.


Lance Winslow writes:

Edmund, yes, I see your point about the keyboard issues, but it is a lot easier than highlighting a whole word or phrase then moving the cursor make it iltalics, bold, or underlined. Regarding voice recognition, bolding, underlining, and italics are not that difficult as most of the speech recognition software reponds to commands; “bold that” or “Underline that” but the “Italisize that” is difficult to say and often not recognized on the first go.

On the point of consensus, well, first, I’d say that a blog or forum can be manipulated far too easy to be trusted. For instance, several friends or one person pretending to be multiple people could use various tactics to run the conversation in their favor, this is well known, I even put together an eBook on the topic (compilation of articles). Further, this particular blog has writers and they are bias, and no one would wish to speak against the rules, not in public anyway, it would be bad for their credibility, luckily I don’t care what anyone else thinks so I am not worried about observing a trend and stating it, whereas, most would be reluctant to do so, or run their observations through social conditioning filters. Additonally, there are 4 billion plus people online, and how many are schooled writers, journalists, or English teachers?

Lastly, I’d say there is a difference between concensus and trends. My point here is that I see and have observed a trends, trends are not concensus, but the fast movers eventually do become the concensus over time. “First they call you crazy,” motif also applies here.

Anyone may agree or disagree here, you agree with Timothy, which is your perogative, but just as there are a billion people following various religions, which disagree with each other, they all cannot be right, so even though one has a concensus in one part of the world or a whole continent, doesn’t make it correct.

Time will prove me right, the rest at that future point will be, as they say history.


Tim writes:

Why don’t you just give it up? You make yourself look ridiculous with your rationalizations for bad writing. Most people are smart enough to know when punctuation marks are used incorrectly. Perhaps you need to go back to English class and insist that you be allowed to do everything your way, whether they make sense or not, since, after all, that is the “new” way of doing things (in your own mind, at least). Contrary to your claims, there is not a huge movement of people using quotes incorrectly, just a relatively small number who are marked as dummies when they do so.


Lance Winslow writes:

Tim, I guess we agree to disagree then on many points of contention I see. Quotations for emphasis are acceptable today, and will continue to be regardless of what the ancient world deemed approprate using their archaic tools at the time they made those grammar rules.

And did you know Tim, that even though you find it necessary to insult my intelligence, observations, and experience, I just learned yesterday that I’ve written more words than all but the top four novelists with the most books in human history, and within a couple of years at my currently slowed down pace I will have written more words than anyone else ever? Seriously, it’s something like 10-million words. So, I’d say, what I have to say is no longer all “in my own mind” rather it’s all over the internet.

Therefore, if we really want to play the status quo game, expert status, and English teacher game, well, I am about to win it, surpassing any and all of them in “actual” writing. Some people teach, some people enforce ancient customs, some folks can’t let go of the past – I just don’t happen to be one of those types.

Be well, live well, and live longest Tim – I Am.


Edmund Sykes writes:

Dear Lance

I have read some of your articles (not enough time to read them all), I have read your impressive CV and I still maintain that Ctrl-b/u/i for Bold/Underline/Italic is as easy as quotation marks with the advantage that you then get four different means of emphasis rather than one.

Being a US citizen, maybe you only think in English but Wikipedia tells me there are more Chinese and Spanish first language speakers than English. I translate all my blogs into Spanish but Chinese defeats me! How do you think quotation markes will be interperated in Spanish?

No one will win this argument as I can see you will never admit to defeat. OK, I admire that in its own way but it is not a sustainable argument to say that you have written the most words on the internet. What matters is the most read words and these start with The Bible and The Quran, probably moving to Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, Churchill and hundreds of others that you cannot hope to “outsell”.

I wish you the very best and look forward to sparring with you in the future!



Ken writes:

Really interesting thread.

Here’s my dilemma, how in the world can I emphasize when I have no way to bold, italic, nor underline, like in this post or within a Title of an article?

Can I EMPHASIZE like this?

In the past, I used to “emphasize” like this. Now I’m stumped.



Edmund Sykes writes:

Hi Ken,

The unfortunate thing about capitals is that it is the same on the internet as SHOUTING and therefore it is not the best form of emphasis.

I guess initial capitals like you have used “Title of an Article” (OK, you didn’t use the capital in Article) would serve to emphasize and I use this often to draw attention to parts of my writing I want to emphasize such as sub-headings. E.g.

How do we Emphasize a Phrase on the Internet?

Lance will disagree!

Regards, Edmund


Owen Jones writes:

Control B or control u works in a lot of situations.



Owen Jones writes:

but not here, nor does control i



Dave Keays writes:

In general, control or alt characters are difficult to handle in web sites (the browser handles some well so I’m not talking about those you see in your browsers menu). Special characters used to signal special actions like bold or italics have been misused and are treated with suspicion and care. Sometimes they are out-right ignored by a programmer who is concerned about security.

Our best bet is to learn to communicate with the characters we can type on a normal keyboard.


Naba Krishna writes:

So far I understand — Quotations are not for Emphasis, they should be used as means of Reference

Comment provided August 20, 2012 at 5:36 AM


Owen Jones writes:

They are for direct speech; to cast doubt and for reference.
There are examples above.



Lance Winslow writes:

Well, consider this; keyboards have changed the way we use language and grammar, further, speech recognition shows the continuation of the trend, so actually in this case my comments and insight are a pretty strong indicator of the future, this my “arguments” as they have been called stand, but realize they aren’t really arguments as much as observations.

Therefore, all of my comments thus stand, and since they are “arguments” as they’ve been labeled, I hereby acknowledge complete and total victory in this matter of the future of grammar on behalf of the nearly 4 billion humans on the planet with Internet access.

Comment provided August 20, 2012 at 2:56 PM


Connie writes:

I agree. We probably all need to review our use of quotation marks. And along with that, we need to review our use of contractions!

Example: There’s three boys at the store. Wrong.

It should be: There’re three boys at the store.

The word boys is plural. Therefore we need to use the words “there are” if we don’t use a contraction.

So many people use contractions incorrectly, including the President, that it is becoming the “right way”.

Add to all this texting over real spelling and we’ve all got a lot to learn…or re-learn.

Comment provided August 20, 2012 at 4:17 PM


Paul writes:

If one can write a good content, then naturally it can be used to earn profits right?

Comment provided August 21, 2012 at 3:41 AM


Edmund Sykes writes:

Hi Paul

Of course. Journalists are often well remunerated but they have to work hard to get the reputation which makes people pay them well for their content.

Try Googling Real Writing Jobs and then look at the negative blogs to see just how hard it is.

Good luck



Linda writes:

Great topic! My pet peeve these days is over used scare quotes.

Comment provided December 29, 2012 at 7:58 PM


Les writes:

Uh oh; I seem to have been making the error of not including my commas inside the quotes!

Comment provided February 5, 2013 at 8:31 PM


khaled writes:

wow! it’s really helpful to me. but i did not unstd yet what is the difference between single and double quotation?

Comment provided March 4, 2013 at 7:18 AM


fathir hakim writes:

thx for share, its useful for me. now i know Quotations are not for Emphasis.

Comment provided December 27, 2013 at 12:04 PM


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