Quotation mark

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Quotation marks, also called quotes or inverted commas, are punctuation marks used in pairs to set off speech, a quotation, or a phrase. The pair consists of an opening quotation mark and a closing quotation mark, which may or may not be the same character, see below.

They have a variety of forms in different languages and in different media.



Quotations and speech

For quotations consisting of more than one paragraph, an opening quotation mark should appear at the beginning of each paragraph of the quoted text and a closing quotation mark at the end of the last paragraph only.

When the quoted text is interrupted, such as with the phrase he said, a closing quotation mark is used before the interruption, and an opening quotation mark after. Commas are also often used before and after the interruption.

British and United States style differs as to whether single or double quotation marks are used, but neither is an absolute rule, and a publisher's or even an author's style may take precedence.

‘Good morning, Dave,’ said HAL. (British)
“Good morning, Dave,” said HAL. (American)

The American convention is for sentence punctuation to be included inside the quotation marks, even if the punctuation is not part of the quoted sentence, while the British style is to have the punctuation outside the quotation marks for small quoted phrases:

Someone shouted ‘Shut up!’. (British)
Someone shouted “Shut up!” (American)

Despite what is sometimes written on discussions of punctuation, British positioning is the same as American in complete quoted speech:

‘Good morning, Dave,’ said HAL.

In some subject areas (such as software documentation and chemistry), it is conventional to include only the quoted string within the quotes, to avoid ambiguity with regard to whether a punctuation mark belongs to it:

Enter the URL as “www.wikipedia.org”, the name as “Wikipedia”, and click "OK".
The URL starts with “www.wikipedia.”. This is followed by “org” or “com”.

It is, however, rarely used in books, unless it is absolutely necessary:

You are now in the “X Window System.” Click the icon called “xterm,” go to the parent directory by typing “cd ..”, and run the command “du -sh .”.

For speech within speech:

‘HAL said, “Good morning, Dave”,’ said Frank. (British)
“HAL said, ‘Good morning, Dave’,” said Frank. (American)

It is generally considered incorrect to use quotation marks for paraphrased speech:

WRONG: HAL said that “Everything was going extremely well.”
RIGHT: HAL said that everything was going extremely well.

In American English, commas and periods always go inside the quotation marks, no matter the circumstance:

He is called “HAL.”
Also called “plain quotes,” they are teardrops.

Question marks and exclamation marks must rely on logic to determine whether they go inside or outside:

Did he say, “Good morning, Dave”?
No, he said, “Where are you, Dave?”

(Note that in the above sentences, only one punctuation mark is used at the end of each sentence. Regardless of its placement, only one end mark (?, !, or .) can end a sentence in American English, whereas in British English, the combination ?”. is acceptable.)

In addition, end marks always go inside single quotes, too:

Dave said, “Did HAL say ‘Good morning,’ or did he not?”
“He said, ‘Good morning.’ Right?”

When a double quotation mark immediately follows a single quotation mark, a space is inserted.

So Dave actually said, “He said, ‘Good morning’ ”?
Yes, he did say, “He said, ‘Good morning.’ ”

Emphasis and ironic quotes

Another important usage of quotation marks is to indicate or call attention to ironic or apologetic words. Ironic quotes are sometimes called scare, sneer, or distance quotes. Ironic quotes are sometimes gestured in verbal speech, using air quotes.

He claimed he was too “busy” to visit me.

Ironic quotes should be used with care, as they can obscure the writer's intended meaning and are easily confused with quotations. In (X)HTML, a semi-semantic way to tell regular quotes from distant quote is to use th q tag for the former, while using actual quotations marks for distant quotes. It is only semi-semantic because the behaviour for non-eye-centered media is uncertain. Still, it is safer than not introducing any distinction at all.

Quotes are also used to indicate that the writer realizes that the word is not being used in its (currently) accepted sense (“in the fifteenth century, we ‘knew’ that blah blah...”), or to emphasize that an instance of a word refers to the word itself, rather than its associated concept.

Quotes are also sometimes used for emphasis in lieu of underlining or italics. This is generally discouraged not only because it is historically an improper usage, but also because it is easily confused with ironic or altered-usage quotation as described above. This is most commonly found on signs or placards. Example:

For sale: “fresh” fish, $5.99

Notice how easily that statement could be construed to imply that the word fresh is not being used with its everyday meaning.

Titles of artistic works

Quotation marks, rather than italics, are generally used for the titles of shorter works. Whether these are single or double is again a matter of style:

  • short fiction, poetry, etc.: Arthur C. Clarke's “The Sentinel”
  • book chapters: The first chapter of 3001: The Final Odyssey is “Comet Cowboy”
  • articles in books, magazines, journals, etc.: “Extra-Terrestrial Relays,” Wireless World, October 1945
  • album tracks, singles, etc.: David Bowie's “Space Oddity

Non-language related usage

Straight quotes (or italic straight quotes) are often used to approximate the prime and double prime (e.g. when when signifying inches and feet, or arcminutes and arcseconds). For instance, 5 feet and 6 inches is often written 5' 6", and 40 degrees, 20 minutes, and 50 seconds is written 40° 20' 50". When available, however, the prime should be used instead (ie. 5′ 6″, and 40° 20′ 50″).

Straight quotes are often used in programming languages to delimit strings. Single and double quotes usually have different meanings in this context.


A list of glyphs used as quotation marks and their Unicode (and HTML) values and names follows. The Unicode standard defines two general character categories, “Ps” (punctuation quote start) and “Pe” (punctuation quote end), for all quotation mark characters. (Warning: Some of these glyphs may not display properly in older browsers, which may substitute other sorts or a square.)

Typewriter quotation marks

"Ambidextrous" quotation marks were introduced on typewriters to reduce the number of keys on the keyboard, and were inherited by computer keyboards. However, modern word processors have started to convert text to use curved quotes (see below). Some computer systems designed in the past had proper opening and closing quotes, with a few machines even making a distinction between regular apostrophes (e.g. couldn’t) and apostrophes that show possession (e.g. Dave’s car). However, the standard ASCII character set, which has been used on a wide variety of computers since the 1960s, only made three quotation marks available: ", ', and the dubious backquote `. The Unicode standard includes typographic and a variety of international quotation marks.

Samples Unicode (decimal) HTML Description
'O' U+0027 (39) ' in XML, but usually ' Apostrophe (single quote)
"O" U+0022 (34) ", but usually " Straight quotation mark (double quote)

Many systems, like the personal computers of the 1980s and early '90s, actually drew straight quotes like curved closing quotes on-screen and in printouts, so text would appear like this (approximately):

    ”Good morning, Dave,” said HAL.
    ’Good morning, Dave,’ said HAL.

The backquote (`) could then be used when doing single quote marks, and give a proper appearance. Unfortunately, nothing similar was available for the double-quote, so many people resorted to using sets of two single quotes for punctuation (this is how TeX knows you want to produce book quotes, for instance):

    ‘Good morning, Dave,’ said HAL.
    ‘‘Good morning, Dave,’’ said HAL.

However, the appearance of these characters has varied greatly from system to system. Currently, due to the transition to new character sets such as Unicode (which specifies that single and double quotes should be vertical rather than angled) such tricks can lead to a fairly different appearance:

    ``Good morning, Dave,'' said HAL.

Quotation marks in English

English curved quotes, also called “book quotes” or “curly quotes,” look like small 6 (six) and 9 (nine) with the circles filled. They are preferred in formal writing and printed typography, but in e-mail and on Usenet they should not be used because they are not present in the ASCII character set (which is the lowest common denominator for data exchange between computers).

Curved quotes are also sometimes referred to as “smart quotes,” in reference to the name of a function found in word processors like Microsoft Word that automatically converts straight quotes typed by the user into curved quotes. This function is necessary because the older ASCII character set had a single straight double quotation mark (character 34), not distinct opening and closing quotation marks, and thus keyboards lacked separate quotation marks. A quote followed by a letter generally becomes an opening quote, whereas a quote with a letter or period preceding it and a space after it becomes a closing quote. As text is converted to ASCII, such as when text is put into a clipboard for cut and paste operations, or is saved to disk, these extended characters are generally converted back to the ASCII code (34). Some programs that are ill behaved do not implement this behavior resulting in strings that are not strictly in the 7 bit ASCII character set.

Samples Unicode (decimal) HTML Description
‘O’ U+2018 (8216), U+2019 (8217) ‘ ’ Single quotes (left and right)
“O” U+201C (8220), U+201D (8221) “ ” Double quotes (left and right)

Variants of and are:

– U+201B (HTML: ‛) – single high-reversed-9, or single reversed comma, quotation mark
– U+201F (HTML: ‟) – double high-reversed-9, or double reversed comma, quotation mark

Supporting curved quotes has been a problem in information technology, primarily because the widely-used ASCII character set did not include a representation for them (as discussed above).

Word processors have traditionally offered curved quotes to users, because in printed documents curved quotes are preferred to straight ones. Before Unicode was widely accepted and supported, this meant representing the curved quotes in whatever 8-bit encoding the software and underlying operating system were using — but the character sets for Windows and Macintosh used two different pairs of values for curved quotes, and ISO 8859-1 (typically the default character set for the Unices and Linux) had no curved quotes, making cross-platform compatibility a nightmare.

Compounding the problem is the “smart quotes” feature mentioned above, which some word processors (including Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.org) use by default. With this feature turned on, users may not have realised that the ASCII-compatible straight quotes they were typing on their keyboards ended up as something entirely different.

Unicode support has since become the norm for operating systems. Thus, in at least some cases, transferring content containing curved quotes (or any other non-ASCII characters) from a word processor to another application or platform has sometimes been less troublesome, provided all steps in the process (including the clipboard if applicable) are Unicode-aware. But there are many applications which still use the older character sets, or output data using them, and thus problems still occur.

There are other considerations for including curved quotes in the widely-used data formats HTML, XML, and SGML, in cases where a character encoding other than Unicode is used (such as the English Wikipedia, which uses ISO 8859-1). Although HTML includes definitions for single and double curved quotes (as shown above), XML does not. In addition, while the XML specification version 1.1 allows specifying both hexadecimal and decimal representations of character entities, SGML and older versions of the XML specification (and many implementations) only support decimal representations. Thus, some argue that any use of curly quotes in XML, SGML, and HTML (a use of SGML) should use the decimal numeric character references. That is, to represent the double curly quotes use “ and ” while to represent single curly quotes use ‘ and ’. These representations are universally supported by all SGML, HTML, and XML implementations, making it easier to later combine material in a way certain to be correctly processed.

There has been some argument in recent years about the appropriateness of book quotes, since they are perceived by some as distracting. Editors who are against book quotes generally argue for ASCII-style straight quotes.

Quotation marks in Finnish and Swedish

In Finnish and Swedish, right quotes are being used to mark both the beginning and the end of a quote. They are referred to as typographical quotes to distinguish them from straight quotes. This usage also translates to angular quotes (sometimes used in magazines), although recently, the notation »…« has won acceptance as well.

Samples Unicode (decimal) HTML Description
’O’ U+2019 (8217), U+2019 (8217) ’ ’ Single quotes in Swedish and Finnish
”O” U+201D (8221), U+201D (8221) ” ” Double quotes in Swedish and Finnish

Quotation marks in German

Confusingly, what is the “left quote” in English is used as the right quote in German, and a different “low 9 quote” is used for the left instead:

Samples Unicode (decimal) HTML Description
‚O‘ U+201A (8218), U+2018 (8216) ‚ ‘ German single quotes (left and right)
„O“ U+201E (8222), U+201C (8220) „ “ German double quotes (left and right)

This style of quoting is also used in Icelandic, Bulgarian, Romanian and in Russian.

Quotation marks in Polish

In the Polish language, double angle quotes are used inside of standard Polish double quotes. (See: “Angle quotes in French...” section below.)

Samples Unicode (decimal) HTML Description
‚O’ Polish single quotes (left and right)
„O” U+201E (8222), U+201d (8221) „ ” Polish double quotes (left and right)

According to current PN-83/P-55366 standard from 1983, Setting rules from composing of Polish texts (Zasady składania tekstów w języku polskim) one can use either „ordinary Polish quotes” or «French quotes» (without space) for first level, and ‚single Polish quotes’ or «French quotes» for second level, which makes three styles of nested quotes:

  1. „Quote ‚inside’ quote”
  2. „Quote «inside» quote”
  3. «Quote ‚inside’ quote»

There is no space on the internal side of quote marks, with the exception of ¼ firet (~ ¼ em) space between two quotation marks when there are no other characters between them (e.g. „quote ‚inside’ ”).

The above rules have not changed since at least the previous BN-76/7440-02 standard from 1976 and are probably much older.

In Polish books and publications, the second style is used almost exclusively. In addition to being standard for second level quotes, French quotes are sometimes used as first level quotes in headings and titles but almost never in ordinary text in paragraphs.

Angled quotation marks in various European languages

Some languages, such as French or Italian, use angle quotation marks (chevrons or guillemets) and add a ¼ em space (U+2005,  ) within the quotes. It is becoming increasingly common, at least in French, however, to use a full non-breaking space (U+00a0,  ) instead of a quarter-em, not least as this is easier to type in most word processing software.

« Est-ce que vous aimez ma ponctuation, Henri ? »
“Do you like my punctuation, Henri?”

There is no such space in Polish and Russian:

«To jest cytat.»
«Это — цитата».
“It’s a quote.”

Also unlike English, French does not set off unquoted material within a quotation mark by using a second set of quotes. Compare:

“This is a great day for Montrealers,” the minister said. “These investments will permit economic growth.”
« C'est une belle journée pour les Montréalais, soutient le ministre. Ces investissements stimuleront la croissance économique. »

For clarity, some newspapers put the quoted material in italics:

« C'est une belle journée pour les Montréalais, soutient le ministre. Ces investissements stimuleront la croissance économique. »

The use of English quotation marks is increasing in French, and usually follows English rules. English quotes are also used for nested quotations, as American English uses single quotes, though single guillemets may also be used for nesting (but very rarely):

« Son “explication” n'est qu'un mensonge », s'indigna le député.
« Son ‹ explication › n'est qu'un mensonge », s'indigna le député.
“His ‘explanation’ is just a lie,” the deputy was indignant.

Spanish uses angled quotation marks as well, but often without the spaces.

Although not common in Dutch in general, double angle quotation marks are used in Dutch government publications. Sometimes, these are used in German publications also --especially in novels--, but then exactly reversed and without spacing.

Samples Unicode (decimal) HTML Description
‹ O ›
‹ O ›
U+2039 (8249), U+203A (8250) ‹ › French single angle quotes (left and right)
« O »
« O »
U+00AB (171), U+00BB (187) « » French double angle quotes (left and right)
«O» U+00AB (171), U+00BB (187) « » French double angle quotes (left and right) without space (used in Polish and Russian)

Quotation dash

Another typographical style, particularly common in French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Polish, and Romanian publications, is to omit quotation marks for lines of dialogue, replacing them with an initial dash:

― Je m'ennuie tellement, dit-elle.
― Cela n'est pas de ma faute, retorqua-t-il.
“I’m so bored,” she said.
“That’s not my fault,” he shot back.

Sometimes (always in Polish) a second dash is used to indicate the end of the quoted speech:

― Ай, ай, ай! ― вскрикнул Левин. ― Я ведь, кажется, уже лет девять не говел. Я и не подумал.
― Хорош! ― смеясь, сказал Степан Аркадевич, ― а меня же называешь нигилистом! Однако ведь это нельзя. Тебе надо говеть.
“Oh dear!” exclaimed Levin. “I think it is nine years since I went to communion! I haven’t thought about it.”
“You are a good one!” remarked Oblonsky, laughing. “And you call me a Nihilist! But it won’t do, you know; you must confess and receive the sacrament.”
from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (Louise and Aylmer Maude translation)

According to the Unicode standard, U+2015 HORIZONTAL BAR should be used as a quotation dash. In general it is the same length as an em-dash, and so this is often used instead. Both are displayed in the table below.

Samples Unicode (decimal) HTML Description
― O U+2015 (8213) ― Quotation dash, also known as horizontal bar
— O U+2014 (8212) — Em-dash, an alternative to the quotation dash

Square quotation mark in East Asian languages

The Japanese and Chinese languages use square quote marks, because they are well-suited to languages that can be written in both vertical and horizontal orientations and can be easily distinguished from Chinese characters. Double quotes are used to mark quote-within-quote segments. English-style double quotes are also used for Chinese, but only rarely in Japanese due to the possibility of confusion with the dakuten sign: especially when handwritten, "か" ka might be incorrectly interpreted as が ga, but 「か」 is unambiguous.

South Korea uses English-style quote marks for both Hangul and Hanja when Korean is written horizontally, but square quotes are stipulated for vertically written texts.

Samples Unicode (decimal) Description
「O」 U+300C (12300), U+300D (12301) Asian single square quotes (left and right)

Chinese: 引號 (Pinyin: yin3 hao4)
Japanese: Kanji: 鉤括弧 ; Hiragana: かぎかっこ (kagikakko)

『O』 U+300E (12302), U+300F (12303) Asian double square quotes (left and right)

Chinese: 雙引號 (Pinyin: shuang1 yin3 hao4)
Japanese: 二重鉤括弧 (nijū kagikakko)

Table of quotation marks

Quote signs in several languages
Language Standard Alternative Space
outer inner outer inner
Afrikaans „…” ‚…’
Albanian «…» ‹…› “…„ ‘…‚
Belarusian «…» „…“
Bulgarian „…“ ‚…‘
Chinese 「…」 『…』 “…” ‘…’ (2)
Croatian »…« ›…‹
Czech „…“ ‚…‘ »…« ›…‹
Danish »…« ›…‹ „…“ ‚…‘
Dutch „…” ‚…’ ”…” ’…’
American English “…” (1) ‘…’ 1~2 pt
British English ‘…’ (1) “…” 1~2 pt
Estonian «…» „…“
Finnish ”…” ’…’ »…» ›…›
French (3) « … » ‹ … › (1) “…” ‘…’ ¼ em
German (3) „…“ ‚…‘ »…« ›…‹
Greek «…» ‹…› “…„ ‘…‚ 1 pt
Hungarian „…” »…«
Icelandic „…“ ‚…‘
Irish “…” ‘…’ 1~2 pt
Italian (3) «…» “…” ‘…’ 1~2 pt
Japanese 「…」 『…』 “…” (4)
Latvian «…» „…“
Lithuanian „…“ ‚…‘ «…» ‹…›
Norwegian «…» ‘…’ “…” ‹…› (4)
Polish „…” ‚…’ (2)(4) «…» (2)
Portuguese “…” ‘…’ «…» ‹…› 0~1 pt
Romanian „…“ ‚…‘ «…» ‹…›
Russian «…» „…“
Serbian „…“ ‚…‘ »…« ›…‹
Slovak „…“ ‚…‘ »…« ›…‹
Slovene „…“ ‚…‘ »…« ›…‹
Sorbian „…“ ‚…‘
Spanish «…» ‹…› “…” ‘…’ 0~1 pt
Swedish ”…” ’…’ »…» ›…›
Switzerland (3) «…» ‹…› “…” ‘…’
Turkish «…» ‹…› “…” ‘…’ 0~1 pt
Ukrainian «…» „…“
  1. In longer quotes the leading quotation mark is repeated in front of each line.
  2. Inside another quote.
  3. In Switzerland the same quote signs are used for all languages: French, German, Italian.
  4. Rarely used

In many languages and countries the double quote signs are used by default and either the single or the alternative ones for nested quotes or defining terms. Besides that the alternative forms, where existing, are often preferred for headings and other texts in larger font sizes.

Sometimes, quotations are nested in more levels than inner and outer quotation. Then, questions arise about the form of the quotation marks to be used, and about their names. Two adjacent quotation marks should be separated by a space for clarity. One way in which their forms were decided is illustrated in the "New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures" (online at http://www.watchtower.org/bible/). The first-level quotation marks are double, the second-level are single, the third-level are double, the fourth-level are single, and the fifth-level are double. Passages like this can be found at Jeremiah 27:1-11; 29:1-28, 30-32; 34:1-5; and Ezekiel 1-36. If a Bible passage containing quotation marks is further quoted in another publication, then all of their forms shift over by one level.

Names for quotation marks

Double quotation mark

  • English: quotation mark, double quote, quote, dirk, double mark, literal mark, double-glitch
  • Belarusian: двукоссе ('double commas'), лапкі ('feet')
  • Danish: Gåseøjne ('goose eyes'), citationstegn ('citation marks')
  • Dutch: Aanhalingsteken ('citation mark')
  • Esperanto: citiloj
  • Finnish: lainausmerkki ('citation mark')
  • French: guillemets
  • German: Anführungszeichen, Gänsefüßchen ('goose feet') or Hochkommas/Hochkommata ('high commas')
  • Icelandic: Gæsalappir ('goose feet')
  • Italian: virgolette
  • Japanese: inyōfu
  • Latvian: pēdiņas
  • Norwegian: Gåseauge/gåseøyne ('goose eyes'), hermeteikn/hermetegn, sittatteikn/sitattegn, dobbeltfnutt
  • Polish: cudzysłów
  • Romanian: ghilimele (plural), ghilimea (singular, rarely used)
  • Russian: кавычки
  • Spanish: comillas
  • Swedish: dubbelfnutt, citationstecken
  • Turkish: Tırnak İşareti
  • Ukrainian: лапки (lapky, 'little paws'), скупки (skupky, 'aggregators')

See also


This article was originally based on material from the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, which is licensed under the GFDL.

de:Anführungszeichen es:Comillas eo:Citilo fr:Guillemet is:Gæsalappir hu:Idézőjel ja:引用符 ru:Кавычки sl:Narekovaj sv:Citationstecken


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