Quotations Marks in Dialogue

Proper usage of quotation marks with dialogue requires an understanding about basic usage, but also includes guidelines about paraphrasing and direct quotations, partial quotations, and single quotation marks.

Paraphrasing and Direct Quotations

Making a citation in writing is done in one of two ways.  If citing the exact words of a person, it is called a direct quote, and requires double quotation marks around the words stated.  If citing what someone said, but not using exact words, it is called paraphrasing and do not use quotation marks.  Consider these examples:

  • Jill told the authorities about Jack's cranial inury.
  • Jill told the authorities that Jack fell and hit his head.
  • Jill told the authorities, "Jack fell down and hurt his crown."
  • Jill told the authorites that "Jack fell down and hurt his crown."
  • Jill told the authorities that Jack fell down and hurt his crown.

In the first example, the writer paraphrased Jill's words, and did not need to use quotation marks.  However, in the second example, quotation marks are needed because her exact words are said.  Notice how only double quotation marks are used with direct quotes.

In creative writing and journalism, start a new paragraph for each new speaker.

Note: In academic writing and journalism, authors sometimes need to insdert words into a direct quotation for clarity. If the passage you quote reads "He uses questionable examples when critiquing the novel," you could change it to "[Smith] uses questionable examples when critiquing [The Sound and the Fury]."

Partial Quotes

Double quotation marks may not be placed around words a speaker could not have used.  For example:

He said he would "quit playing football" if his team did not start winning.

Because "quit playing football" does not make sense outside of context, the speaker could not have used those words.

Misplacing quotation marks may change the meaning of the sentence, or imply something unintentional, such as sarcasm.  Consider these examples:

"He said his name was Bobby."

He said, "His name was Bobby."

He said his name was "Bobby".

The first example shows the sentence as a statement of fact, spoken by one person to another, identifying what someone says his name is.  In the second example, the meaning did not change, but it is implied that it is made by an outside speaker.  With the last example, placing quotation marks around "Bobby" creates a sense of sarcasm, as if the person is not who he claims he is.

Single Quotation Marks

Single quotation marks are also used, but when it refers to another person's statement.  In those instances, single quotation marks are placed around the innermost direct quote and alternate with double quotation marks.  For example:

"John F. Kennedy said, 'Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.'"

In that example, the writer is speaking to someone, shown with double quotation marks, but within that direct quote is someone else's quote.  Therefore, single quotation marks are needed for distinction between who is speaking and what words are not the speaker's.

Note:  single quotation marks are also used around foreign terms.

Using Quotation Marks [Basic Usage | Dialogue Usage | Exceptions]
by Bobby Kuechenmeister, UWEC Sophomore
Originally written as a term project for Dr. Dennis G. Jerz's English 305:  Introduction to Technical Writing class.
first posted [date]