Grammar

Single Quotation Marks: Here Are Some Easy Rules

Quotation marks are widely used in English for directly quoting a sentence spoke or written by someone. Quotation marks...

Matthew Hamel Written by Matthew Hamel · 4 min read >
single quotation marks

Quotation marks are widely used in English for directly quoting a sentence spoke or written by someone. Quotation marks play an essential role in direct speech.

Besides that, the quotation marks are also used to highlight a fragment of a sentence, writing certain titles, and to showcase alternate meaning.

Single quotation marks and double quotation marks work according to some well-defined rules with which one must be familiar.

‘Hey Sam, What are you doing?’ Said Alex in a reluctant voice. Here, the sentence is placed within a quote as it is exactly stating what Alex said.

Use of single quotation marks along with double quotation marks

1) American English: When you are writing something for the American audience, make sure to use the double quotation marks first, and then comes the single quotes within the double quotation.

Example: “There were several ‘snake-tattooed men’ at the end of the alley.” As you can see, in this case, the single quotation mark is used inside the double quote.

2) British English: In British English, first the single quotation marks are used. You add double quotation marks within those single quotation marks if required.

Example:There were several “snake-tattooed men” at the end of the alley.’ However, in British English, it is the opposite of the previous case

Use of single quotation marks for titles and headlines

In this case also, the use of single quotation marks differ. When you mention the title of a story, you use single quotation marks. However, this rule is only applicable when using single quotation marks for British English.

Consider the Sentence: Have you read ‘Angels and Demons’? In this sentence, the title is placed within a single quote.

  • I think the article ‘Bad Roads leading to Accidents- Whose mistake?’ in today’s newspaper is a great one.
  • Which movie should I watch, ‘Dark Days’ or ‘Sky is Blue’?

We do not mention the title within single quotation marks while writing American English language content. In that case, you can use double quotation marks. Take a few more examples:

Use of quotation marks for highlighting phrases

When you need to emphasize a particular phrase, you need to use quotation marks for those phrases. When you use such phrases within a quote, the quotes are called scare quotes.

Consider this example: The professor asked us for our help in writing notes for his ‘very secretive’ project. The phrase ‘very secretive’ is emphasized using  single quotations.

Here are a few more examples:

  • Ryan Greta is known for his ‘adult films.’
  • Dubai is one of the  biggest ‘business hubs’ in the world.
  • Our of all the shirts, the one with ‘blue and red stripes’ was good one.
  • I was asked to ‘shut my mouth’ by my teacher.
  • There is a new ‘dragon ride’ in the amusement park.

However, here also, it differs as per the English you are writing.

For American English, you do not use single quotation marks. Instead of that, you have to use double quotation marks instead.

Whether in the case of British English single quotation marks are used.

Quotation mark rules

Spacing between single quotation marks and double quotation marks

This is a common rule which is used in both, American English and British English. Writers usually put space between double quotation marks and single quotation marks to avoid confusion.

Consider the following sentences:

  • “What are you doing with professor’s ‘personal dairy?’ “
  • “Today we are having a match between ‘Arsenal and Liverpool.’ “
  • “Mrs. Smith is going to ‘Sweet-tooth Bakery.’ “
  • ” ‘Yoyo’ is a nice pet name.”
  • ” ‘Counter Strike’ is better than ‘Call of Duty’ “

If you check the above examples, there is a gap between double and single quotations. Whether the single quotation is place near the opening quotation or closing quotation, in both the cases, it is necessary to provide a gap. This would help the reader to avoid confusion.

You must use the period and comma inside the single quotation. However, for question mark and exclaimation, you can put it inside if you are quoting a sentence. If you are just quoting a phrase, you must place it after the closing quotation.

Single quotation marks and capitalization

It could be confusing whether to capitalize the text inside a quote mark or not. Sometimes, you find it capitalized and sometimes not. However, it is not random. There are a set of rules you need to know while you use single quotation marks.

For instance, if you are using a single quotation mark for a complete sentence, the first alphabet must be capitalized. However, if you use a single quotation mark for a phrase, you do not require capitalizing the phrase.

In case you are splitting a sentence, the first section within a quotation mark will have its first alphabet capital. However, you don’t need to capitalize the first alphabet of the second part placed within a quotation mark.

The same rules are to be followed while you use double quotation marks.

Consider the following sentence:

I heard Richard saying that ‘The game room will get open from the next Monday.’

Richard said that the game room is still ‘dirty, messy, and smelly.’

If you compare both the examples, the first alphabet in the first example is capitalized whereas in the second example, it is not. In the first sentence, the narrator is quoting the entire sentence, that’s why the first alphabet is capitalized. In the second example, only a phrase is  quoted using single quotation.  Therefore, the first alphabet won’t be capitalized.

Using single quotation marks in place of parentheses

Both, single and double quotes can be used at the place of parentheses. However, not in every case. When the phrase or word enclosed within the parentheses showcases the meaning of the word or phrase used prior to the quotation mark, you can use single quotation marks instead.

I feel he is useless (a lazy employee) for our company. This sentence can be alternatively  be written as: I feel he is useless, ‘a lazy employee,’ for our company.

Consider another example:

He told us konichiwa (good afternoon) when we all entered inside.

He told us konichiwa, ‘good afternoon,’ when we all entered inside.

Rules of using single quotation marks and double quotation marks

Do periods go inside quotation marks?

It is one of the major confusion which writers face is the use of other punctuations along with single quotation marks and double quotation marks.

In the case of periods, it comes inside the quotation marks. 

The same rule is used for comma also.

Example:

  • Ryan Greta is known for his ‘adult films.’
  • ‘Do you think,’ said  Raj, ‘she will come?’

These sentences show that the period and comma are required to be placed before the closing quotation.

Rules for using other punctuation along with quotation marks

1) Outside the quotation marks: colons, semicolons, and dashes.

2) Sometimes inside the quotation marks and sometimes outside the quotation marks: question marks and exclamation marks.

In this case, it completely depends upon the logic. If it is a phrase or a word, people tend to use question mark and exclamation mark outside the quotes. However, not when it is a complete sentence.

Here are some examples:

Hey Sam, What are you doing?‘- Inside Quotes

Have you read ‘Angels and Demons’?– Outside Quotes

However, to maintain the uniformity, it is suggested to use the question marks and exclamation marks inside the quotation marks.

Punctuations that introduce single quotes mark

The punctuation marks are always written prior to a single quote i.e., it doesn’t appear within single quotation marks but just before that.

Written by Matthew Hamel
Matt has spent over a decade in international and ESL education both as a teacher and instructional designer. In addition to classroom and online teaching experience, Matt has written hundreds of lessons and articles about English with an emphasis on ESL learners. Profile
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