The most effective way to learn about quotation marks is to start by learning some of the basic rules of this type of punctuation, and then expand your horizons by practice in applying the rules in a variety of instances.
For practice using quotation marks, you can use the following worksheets:
Aside from conveying that a character in a text is speaking, quotation marks have other uses. One is to set off the title of a book or movie. Another is to denote irony or that the speech is not to be taken at the obvious value the words would seem to mean.
For example, if one were to notice an elderly woman who claimed to not remember any of the events of World War 2 (because she didn’t want to reveal her age, although her age was obvious), one might say, “She certainly is “young” for her age.”
The use of quotation marks around the word “young” implies that the woman is anything but young! It’s a droll form of irony (or in spoken speech, sarcasm), and the intent is denoted by the use of quotation marks.
Other practice using quotation marks might involve their use around a nickname. The famous mid-20th century singer, Nat “King” Cole, was not born with name “King.” It was a nickname given to him by his fellow musicians for the smooth and easy way he had with singing.
One might refer to a Nat Cole, but it’s doubtful anyone would know who you meant. “King” is part of the singer’s name to anyone who remembers him, and the use of the quotation marks around the “King” indicates that the title isn’t a birthname, but a nickname.
Practice using quotation marks, and before you know it, the art of it will come with ease.
In very early editions of the Bible, there aren’t any quotation marks. The speakers are indicated by the use of their name, followed by what they said. This was at the very earliest beginnings of typography, particularly in the use of moveable type, that it became clear another use would have to be found for setting off the speech of a character.
That’s simply because “John said” and “Mary said” and “John said,” all in a row, is very boring and interferes with the flow of text for the reader.
Printers realized this, and the earliest ones came up with the idea of somehow setting off the speech of character by a means of making it different from the rest of the text. Initially, this was by indentation. The typesetter would indent the quoted speech of a character in the text of a document, so that the reader would know that what was being said was coming from that one singular speaker.
If the text, however, had a great amount of spoken dialogue, without much action between quotes, the use of indentation became problematic. It was hard for the reader to follow who was saying what, if most of the text was indented.
It was during the Renaissance that the invention of italics came along to distinguish a particular speech, as opposed to merely indenting the text to indicate speech. Italic type was the same as the regular typeface used on a text, except that it was slanted to the right. This novel approach helped a great deal towards indicating which speech belonged to which character.
It took until the 16th century before the actual invention of quote marks - the set of elevated twin commas - was used by typesetters. The quote marks were not separate symbols, as were the letters used in moveable type. The quote marks were directly carved into the typesetting metal by the printer before the text was printed. By 1749, the use of quote marks to set off speech had become common in printed text.
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