Using Quotation Marks

"It is an old error of man to forget to put quotation marks where he borrows from a woman’s brain!"

Anna Garlin Spencero

It is an error for any person to forget to put quotation marks when she or he borrows from any person's brain. However, that rule for direct quotation isn't the only rule for using quotation marks. They are also used to indicate titles of shorter works, and, of course, there is that problem with when to use single quotation marks. Check below.

1. Use quotation marks to indicates words directly quoted from another source, whether that source be a person or another work.

Ex. A: The old man said before he turned away, "I'm a human being and deserving of some respect, just for that fact."

Note 1: Commas and periods always go inside quotation marks.

Note 2: A comma usually precedes a direct quotation used within a sentence.

Ex. B: Eppie Girl said, "Meow," and jumped to the floor.

Ex. C: In 1869, John Stuart Mill said, "Laws and systems of polity always begin by recognizing the relations they find already existing between individuals" (432).

Note: A parenthetical citation of a work goes after the quotation marks and before the period.

Mill, John Stuart. The Subjection of Women. 1869. London: Oxford UP, 1966.

Ex. D: Did Hermione say, "I don't know"?

Note: Put the question mark outside the quotation marks if the quotation itself is not a question, but the sentence in which the quotation is used is a question.

2. Use quotation marks to indicate titles of shorter works, such as poems, songs, short stories, magazine and newspaper articles, essays, and episodes of television shows.

Ex. A: Theron read Robert Frost's poem "Stopping By a Woods."

Ex. B: The title of the essay is "Freedom and My Life," by Davey Ehrengard.

Ex. C: One of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons is "Bart Gets an F."

Note: The titles of television shows are italicized.

3. Use single quotation marks only to mark quotes within quotes. A quote within a quote occurs when the material being quoted is already in quotation marks in the original source. There is no other use of single quotation marks.

Ex. A: Mill argues against using St. Paul's epistles as a means for discrimination against women because "'The powers that be are ordained of God' gives his sanction to military despotism to that alone, as the Christian form of political government, or commands passive obedience to it" (481).

Explanation: The writer of the above example is quoting John Stuart Mill who quotes the Bible in his work. Because the words The powers that be are ordained of God are already in quotation marks in Mill's work, they are put in single quotes in the above sentence. Another method of recognizing a quote within a quote is that when the source of quote, in the above case St. Paul, differs from the source being cited, in the above case John Stuart Mill, there will be a quote within a quote.

Ex. B: In presenting his case for women's rights, Mill argues against the contention that if women don't want to be wives and mothers, "'Therefore it is necessary to compel them'"  (459).

Explanation: The entire direct quotation was already in quotation marks in Mill's work.


4. Omit quotation marks around long direct quotations, unless the direct quotation is a quote within a quote, and then use double quotation marks.

Ex. A: Mill argues that it is not necessary that the husband should be head of the house:

It is not true that in all voluntary association between two people, one of them must be absolute master: still less that the law must determine which of them it shall be. The most frequent case of voluntary association, next to marriage, is partnership in business: and it is not found or thought necessary to enact that, in every partnership, one partner shall have entire control over the concern, and the others shall be bound to obey his orders. (472)

Ex. B: Mill argues that if women are given equal rights, then the myth that they are naturally over-emotional will disappear:

Much of all this [emotion] is the overflow of nervous energy run to waste, and would cease when the energy was directed to a definite end. Much is also the result of conscious or unconscious cultivation; as we see by the almost total disappearance of "hysterics" and fainting fits, since they have gone out of fashion. (498)

Explanation: The word hysterics was already in quotation marks in Mill's work; thus, it is marked as a quote within a quote in this long direct quotation.

Ex. C: See sample research paper.

oSpencer, Anna Garlin. From Woman’s Share in Social Culture. 1913. The Columbia World of Quotations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. 5 Nov. 2004 <>.

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