There seems to be some confusion over how to use quotation marks correctly. Let us take a moment to clear things up. There are two reasons to use quotation marks in English writing. The first reason is that you are quoting someone; that is to say you are using someone else’s exact words, and you are giving that person credit for having said them. The second reason you might use quotation marks in English is if you are being sarcastic. Read on to find out more.
Maybe you’re writing a research paper, and you need to quote a source, or perhaps you’re writing an article about the Gettysburg Address, and you need to quote Abraham Lincoln, or maybe you’re writing an email to your bff about your date last night, and you need to quote what he said to you. In any of these cases, you need to use quotation marks (“ ”).
Quite simply put, you just surround the quoted text with quotation marks. Any words that are not your own original words should be inside the quotation marks. “Four score and seven years ago...”Generally speaking, however, when you use a quote, you will put it into some sort of context so it’s not standing all alone. If this is the case (and it usually is), then we need to talk about punctuation.
Basically, any punctuation that comes before the beginning of the quote goes outside of the quotation marks, and any punctuation that comes at the end of the quote stays inside the marks. Study these examples:
In this sentence, there is a lead-in to the quote. Notice that at the end of the lead-in, before the quote begins, there is a comma. And at the end of the quote, still inside the quotation marks, is the question mark.
Here, the quote is divided into two phrases - “I would love to” and “but I really ought to go home.” This is one sentence, that has been split up to identify the speaker in the middle. You can break up a quote like this as long as you split it at an appropriate place, and there are three appropriate places to divide a quote:
In this final sentence, the quote comes at the beginning. If the quote would normally end with a period like this one, use a comma inside the quotation marks, and then continue the sentence outside. If the quote would end with a question mark or an exclamation point, use that inside, and then continue the sentence outside the quotation marks.“Where are you going?” she asked.“I love it!” he exclaimed.
If your quoted text is a complete sentence (or multiple sentences), capitalize the first letter of the sentence(s) regardless of where you put the quote within the larger sentence. “We went to the movies,” she said.
She said, “We went to the movies.”
The other reason one might use quotation marks in English is to show sarcasm. For example, let’s say Natalie and Mike are friends. They hang out a couple of times a week to watch their favorite TV show or play Rock Band. Natalie’s girlfriends suspect that something more is brewing between the two of them. Natalie is chatting online with her friend Kendra. Observe:
Kendra: What are you doing tonight?
Natalie: I’m going over to Mike’s to watch Lost.
Kendra: Yeah right.
Kendra: Nothing. You just seem to be over there “watching Lost” an awful lot.
In this case, Kendra does not believe that Natalie and Mike are actually watching Lost together. She is implying by the use of her quotation marks that the two of them are actually doing something else.
Or here’s another example: Leaf is an avant-garde, hippie artist who gave up his internal combustion engine some time in the late 90s. He has been experimenting lately, however, with vehicles that run on compost and human excrement, but he can’t get a date because no girl wants to be seen in his “car.” Girls, you see, do not see this vehicle as a legitimate car, so when they discuss it, they use the quotation marks to indicate their sarcasm.
Hopefully this clears up any confusion you may have been experiencing about how to use quotation marks. For information on how to use other kinds of punctuation, see What Are the Fourteen Punctuation Marks in English Grammar?, Comma Rules, and Colons, Semicolons and Dashes.