Quotation marks are commonly used in five situations:
- To enclose a direct quotation or dialogue, but not for paraphrasing what has been said. Example: Jen said, “I love this book!” BUT Jen said she loved this book.
- To set off unfamiliar terms. Example: She wrote “stet” for that paragraph.
- To refer to words or letters. Examples: He used the word “grace,” OR I received an “A” on the test.
- To set off a word or phrase for effect. Example: She said he’s too “needy,” OR Jim wants to have everything his way; he is “high-maintenance ne plus ultra.” (Be careful not to overuse quotation marks for effect; the device can irritate readers.)
- To designate composition titles, depending on the style guide. Example: Sue thinks one of the best Doctor Who episodes is “Pit of Satan.”
If the direct quotation is only a sentence fragment, then no capital letter is needed. Example: A reviewer referred to zombie tropes as “mostly clichéd and played out.”
When an attribution separates a direct quotation, then the second part begins with a lowercase letter. Example: “Promise me,” she said, “you won’t go with them.”
For punctuation, a comma generally concludes direct quotations with an attribution unless the quoted statement ends with a question mark or exclamation point.
Examples: “They are all going to the movie,” she said.
“Where did they go?” she asked. Note that the attribution is still lower case. I’ve seen it capped (“She” in this case), which is incorrect and just looks odd.
If there is no attribution after a direct quotation, then a period concludes the sentence (unless the quoted statement ends with a question mark or exclamation point). Examples: Sherry said, “I don’t agree with you.”
Sherry yelled, “I don’t agree with you!”
Generally, periods and commas go inside the quotation marks. Other punctuation marks go outside of the quotation marks unless they are part of the quoted passage.
Example: Did I really hear her claim that she still has money “as long as there are still checks in the checkbook”?
If there is a quoted statement within a larger direct quotation, then use single quotation marks to set it off within the double quotation marks. Example: “She said, and I quote, ‘I don’t care if you come or not.’” Make sure that the single quotation marks are pointing the correct way.
Keeping these rules in mind for quotation marks will improve your writing, and you can quote me on that.