Single Quotation Marks: Use & Rules

Instructor: Lindsy Frazer

Dr. Frazer has taught several college level Science courses and has a master's degree in Human Biology and a PhD in Library and Information Science.

We usually see quotation marks in pairs, but have you noticed single quotation marks being used in the newspaper or a book? In this lesson, learn when and how to use single quotation marks.

What Are Single Quotation Marks?

Double quotation marks are pretty common. You mostly find them around direct quotations, the exact words of another person used by an author, in books, poems, plays, signs and posters.

Double Quotes

In fact, it is so common to find quotation marks in pairs that you might not even realize there are single quotation marks.

single quotes

Double and single quotation marks are both most commonly used with quotations, but these punctuation marks are used in different ways. Single quotation marks are used to mark a quote within a quote or a direct quote in a news story headline.

Use Single Quotation Marks to Mark a Quote within a Quote

The most common way single quotation marks are used is to mark a quote within a quotation.

Imagine your friend Tim showed up at your house with two giant ice cream cones. You asked Tim where the ice cream came from.

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You are restating your friend Tim's words. Tim is the primary speaker, so his words are enclosed in double quotation marks. But Tim isn't just speaking his own words, he is also quoting the ice cream man. The words Tim is quoting are enclosed in single quotation marks.

Notice in the example above that the period that ends the sentence goes inside all of the quotation marks. Periods always go inside all quotation marks.

A Question in a Quote

What are your favorite types of books to read? My friends Jane and John disagree about what kinds of books tell the best stories.

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When Jane was speaking she quoted John, so John's words are marked with single quotation marks.

Notice that the question mark is inside of the single quotation marks. If the quote within a quote is a question, than the question mark is placed inside the single quotation marks. The same is true for exclamation marks.

But, if the question is part of the main quote, then the question mark is placed outside of the single quotation marks and inside of the double quotation marks.

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