Quotation Marks

One further use, according to the Chicago Manual of Style: in philosophical discourse, key concepts may be set apart with single-quote marks. When such concepts are set off in this way, periods and commas go outside the single-quote marks:

* Sartre’s treatment of ‘being’, as opposed to his treatment of ‘non-being’, has been thoroughly described in Kaufmann’s book. —Quotation Marks (Capital Community College)

This is the only source I’ve found that supports the common convention of using single-quote marks for short quotations.

In basic comp, it’s conventional to use double-quote marks

  • when using exact words that belong to someone else
  • for the title of a short literary work (a poem or article)
  • for any other reasons, rarely if ever

Americans use single-quote marks only within quoted material within a quotation.

“I don’t think your little ‘joke’ was funny,” said the principal, his face smeared with whipped cream.

Towards the end of the semester, if they’re dying to use “scare quotes” or they’re going for an “ironic” effect, I hope my students do so in moderation.

I didn’t know that the single-quote use is accepted in philosophy. Okay, then, if you’re taking a philosophy class, and you notice your professor uses the single-quote mark to emphasize ‘important’ concepts, then you should, too.

Yet I’ve often wondered why so many of my freshman comp students have a ‘love affair’ with single-quote marks. I can easily tell them there’s no need to put any quotation marks around ‘old chestnuts’ and cliches that are ‘as old as the hills,’ yet they often use single-quote marks. They’re very consistent about it, which suggests they have internalized some ‘rule’ that they have picked up somewhere.

This isn’t just ’empty rhetoric’ that I’m writing to keep myself sane in between marking sessions. I’m not just ‘ranting’. I recognize that ‘my job’ is to help students learn the ‘conventions’ of college writing, so I’m ‘really’ interested in what might be causing this particular non-standard punctuation, and I’m writing ‘this’ blog entry to show how an ‘overuse’ of quotaton can whittle away at the reader’s ‘confidence’ in the ‘voice’ the ‘author’ is trying to ‘project’.

I can let them know there’s no need to label so-called ‘ironic’ words as ‘so-called,’ (since the quotation marks already show the author is trying to keep a ‘safe distance’ from these words).

But why the single ‘ instead of the double ” so often? They can’t all have made the same ‘mistake’ randomly. What ‘model’ are they following, that causes them to create the ‘rule’ that one should always use single quotation marks when quoting short phrases?

If it were always a ‘single’ word, I might be tempted to explain it as an overliteral interpretation of the name ‘single-quote mark.’ But I often see the ‘single-quote mark’ setting off ‘short phrases,’ so that can’t be it.

Is it just that high school students are not used to quoting a few words at a time? Their practice has been in quoting whole sentences or longer passages, so they’re not sure what to do when they quote shorter passages?

I don’t gather that most students would bother using quotation marks at all when text-messaging each other, but is it perhaps that the ‘single’ quotation mark is easier to type? On a US computer keyboard, the ‘ is right between the semicolon (an underused home-row key) and the enter key. You have to hit shift-‘ in order to get a “. Does that somehow make the ” less prominent to the developing writer?