How to Use Quotation Marks Properly

The English language has multiple punctuations that signal certain stops, pauses, and the writer’s intention. One of these punctuations is the quotation marks (“ “).

What are Quotation Marks?

Many people, especially English learners, are quite confused about how to use them properly. Primarily, quotations marks are used to quote somebody else word-per-word. It may come from a written article, a live speech statement, a study, and so on.

Quotation always comes in pairs. The common rule is that when you open with a quotation mark (“), you should always close with another (“).

There are many sentences where you can use quotation marks. Here are the most common ones:

Direct Quotations

Direct quotations are exact words or phrases spoken or written by a certain person. It’s useful when you want your readers to know the raw information from the source.

It’s also handy in writing about interviews or explaining certain theories in academic papers. It can also be used when creating dialogue for short stories. Here are some examples:

  1. As one of the greatest minds in history, Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
  2. My mother told me, “you should wash the dishes before playing computer games.”
  3. “You are the perfect person for my life,” Jason said while holding her hands.

As long as it’s a direct quotation, you have to use quotation marks.

To Indicate a Nickname

Some nicknames are tagged in a certain person or place representing what it’s known for. Including this in a sentence can spark familiarity with your readers.

To show this, you use quotation marks. The quotation marks indicate the nickname or moniker in the sentence. Here are examples:

  1. Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao won the boxing match against Juan Manuel Marquez.
  2. Eldric Tont “Tiger” Woods bagged 82 official PGA Tour events.
  3. Caryn Elaine Johnson, popularly known as “Whoopi Goldberg,” is one of the most influential comedians of our century.
  4. Visiting Japan, the “Land of the Rising Sun,” is like having a trip to traditional eras with a perfect mix with technology.
  5. The Philippines, the “Pearl of the Orient Seas,” boasts of beautiful turquoise waters and paradisiacal beaches that are unique among bodies of water in the world.

As you can see, it describes the names or places with additional depth that your readers can associate it with.

To Indicate a Title

Quotation marks can also be used to indicate a title of a magazine, book, study, newspaper, and many more. Examples are:

  1. In his book, “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life,” Charles Darwin published the foundations of the theory of evolution.
  2. The movie entitled “A Beautiful Mind,” narrates the life of esteemed mathematician, John Nash, and his struggles with his mental illness.

The quotation marks served as a marker to show the title for the readers.

To Refer to the Word Itself

In your writing, you might explain terms, idioms, or phrases without actually intending to use them in your sentence. To refer to the word itself, you need to use quotation marks to explain the terms. For example:

  1. The idiom “kill two birds with one stone” doesn’t mean a literal bird dying from your stone-throwing. It just means with one action; you accomplished two goals.
  2. The scientific process “desalination” takes out the salt and mineral components to turn it to potable water ready for drinking.
  3. “Piece of cake” doesn’t mean there’s a cake you can eat after your work. It just means the work was done easily and tastefully like a “piece of cake.”

With the examples, the writer intends to explain the meaning of the terms rather than use them in the sentence. It helps readers to understand this objective because of the quotation marks.

Quotation Mark Grammar Rules

Now that we know where to use quotation marks, we must apply what we learned and use them grammatically correct. Using quotation marks is quite tricky. Here are the things you need to consider.

What to Capitalize?

There are multiple rules when to capitalize words with quotation marks. Usually, we capitalize the first letter of the first word in every sentence. In a directly quoted statement, we also capitalize the first word of the quotation. For example:

Mr. Lee said, “I am going to the bar after work.”

As you can see, we capitalized “Mr.,” which is the first word of the sentence, and we also capitalized “I,” which is the first word of the quoted statement.

Also, there are times when you cut the quotation in the middle part, like in story dialogues. You don’t need to capitalize the second half of the quotation. For example,

“I didn’t see Mr. Lee,” Jason said carefully, “but I think the waitress did.”

In this example, the sentence was cut in the middle. You don’t have to capitalize “but” in this case.

Where to Put Commas and Periods?

Another confusing part of the quotation mark is commas and periods. As a general rule, you always put a comma before a quotation mark. And the periods should also be inside the quotation before your second quotation mark. Going back to the examples above,

Mr. Lee said, “I am going to the bar after work.”

You can see the commas before the quotation and the period before closing the sentence. 

How about Exclamation Points and Question Marks?

For exclamation points and question marks, it would depend on who asks the question or exclaimed the statement. Here are two scenarios.

If the question was a direct quote from a person, you put the question mark inside the quotation. For example:

The detective asked, “what was Mr. Lee doing when you saw him?”

In the sentence above, you are directly quoting the question of the detective. Therefore, you put the question mark before the quotation mark.

If the question is about a certain term, expression, or phrase quoted, the question mark should be outside the quotation mark. For example:

  1. How did he use the term “hitting two birds with one stone”?
  2. Are you listening to him when he said, “The food is ready”?

If you examine the sentences above, the writer is asking in relation to the quoted terms. With this, you place your quotation marks outside.

Using a Quotation within a Quotation

What if you’re trying to quote someone quoting someone else? How do you punctuate it? You don’t need to be confused. You just use single quotation marks for the quotation inside the quotation. Here are some examples:

  1. The detective told Jason, “Mr. Lee said ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’”
  2. “The title of the book,” Andrew described, “is ‘How to Kill a Mockingbird.’”

Here you can see that the inner quotation is punctuated with a single quotation mark (‘ ‘) to separate it from the main quotation.


There you have it! A simple guide on how to use quotation marks in your writing. It might be confusing at first, but you can practice it to be better. You can also improve with the help of LingualBox. You get quality 1-on-1 sessions with certified English tutors for as low as $2.

With that, improve your writing pieces by incorporating these tools into your next essays.


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Miko Eclipse is a digital nomad writer who travels the world while working online! He likes to meet new people, experience the culture, and gobble on the best food the country has to offer. English is his 2nd language for travel. And it can be yours as well by reading our weekly updates on our blog!