Posted in From The Editor's Desk, punctuation

Punctilious Punctuation: Single or Double Quotation Marks

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I wear many hats when I’m editing, including switching between American English (AmE) and British English (BrE), depending on what manuscript I am working on.  Did you know that there are different grammatical conventions depending on which side of the pond you are on?

British English prefers the term Inverted Commas when they talk about speech marks or quotation marks. Do you know when to use them, and whether to use single or double?

British English prefers single inverted commas, while American English prefers double.

Ronald B. McKerrow states, “Inverted commas were, until late in the seventeenth century, frequently used at the beginnings of lines to call attention to sententious remarks….They were not especially associated with quotations until the eighteenth century.”

The Oxford Dictionary ruling says,

“There’s no rule about which to use but you should stick to one or the other throughout a piece of writing. Single inverted commas are generally more common in British English while American English tends to prefer double ones.

If you find that you need to enclose quoted material within direct speech or another quotation, use the style you haven’t used already. So, if you’ve been using single inverted commas, put any further quoted material within double ones and vice versa.”

 

Rules of Quotation Marks / Inverted Commas:
American English vs. British English

American style uses double quotes (“) for initial quotations, then single quotes (‘) for quotations within the initial quotation.

“Economic systems,” according to Professor White, “are an inevitable byproduct of civilization, and are, as John Doe said, ‘with us whether we want them or not.’”

British style uses single quotes (‘) for initial quotations, then double quotes (“) for quotations within the initial quotation.

 ‘Economic systems’, according to Professor White, ‘are an inevitable byproduct of civilization, and are, as John Doe said, “with us whether we want them or not”’.

The above examples also show that the American style places commas and periods inside the quotation marks, even if they are not in the original material. British style (more sensibly) places unquoted periods and commas outside the quotation marks. For all other punctuation, the British and American styles are in agreement: unless the punctuation is part of the quoted material, it goes outside the quotation marks.

 

From The Punctuation Guide. This is one of my go-to references, when I am wearing many hats and working in British English.

punctuation-marks-quotation-marks

For Further Reading:

“British versus American style.” The Punctuation Guide. http://www.thepunctuationguide.com/british-versus-american-style.html

Fowler, H.W.  “Chapter IV: Punctuation. Quotation Marks.” The King’s English, 2nd edition. 1908. http://www.bartleby.com/116/406.html

Garber, Marjorie. “” ” (quotation Marks)”. Critical Inquiry 25.4 (1999): 653–679.

Heisel, Andrew. “Single Quotes or Double Quotes? It’s Really Quite Simple.” Slate Magazine. October 21, 2014.   http://www.slate.com/blogs/lexicon_valley/2014/10/21/single_quotes_or_double_quotes_it_s_really_quite_simple.html

McKerrow, Ronald B. An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students. Oxford, 1927. page 316.
Man with many hats image courtesy of Maggie Summers

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