Back to Basics: Quotes
When, where, and how should you use quotation marks in your writing? It's a question that confuses people and causes a lot of problems for them and not just when it comes to writing dialogue. Today we'll discuss the proper usage of quotation marks in fiction and non-fiction, formal and informal writing.
How do I quote someone in an essay?
First, you need to decide if you're going to quote them word for word or if you want to paraphrase what they said. If they were long winded in their explanation of something, paraphrasing might be best. Otherwise it looks like you are using the quote to bump up your word count without presenting your take on the subject, which can hurt your grade. The best quotes to use in school papers are short, to the point, and given by experts in the topic you're discussing in the paper.
Quotation marks should not be used when referencing or paraphrasing a source. A direct quote must be surrounded by quotation marks.
Example of referencing: In the fifth act of The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare compares good deeds done in an evil world to the light shining from a candle in the dark. (Insert proper accreditation for The Merchant of Venice: Act 5, Scene 1)
Example of paraphrasing: The influence of our actions reaches farther than the act itself. (Insert proper accreditation for The Merchant of Venice: Act 5, Scene 1)
Example of quoting: Concerning the influence of good deeds, Shakespeare said, "How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world." (Insert proper accreditation for The Merchant of Venice: Act 5, Scene 1)
What do you mean about proper accreditation?
When you reference, paraphrase, or quote the work of someone else inside a paper, post, article, or any other work, you have to give them credit. Otherwise you're as good as saying their work is your work, and that's the same as stealing. Accreditation is how you give another author credit for the ideas or wording you use to back up your points.
The form accreditation takes varies based on the type of source you are referencing as well as the style you are writing in. When your teacher assigns an essay or paper, they should tell you which style they want it written in. If they don't, ask. Common styles are APA, MLM, and Chicago Style. Each have their own rules, and those rules can change from time to time, which is why I noted where accreditation needed to be placed instead of giving specific examples. Make sure to pick up a current style guide or look up the rules online for whichever style you are assigned.
Should I capitalize a quote?
Whether or not you should capitalize the first word in a quote depends on whether or not the quote itself is a complete sentence. If it is a sentence on its own, you should set it off with a comma and capitalize the first word just like you would if it wasn't a quotation. If you're only quoting a phrase, don't capitalize the first word.
Benjamin Franklin said, "A penny saved is a penny earned."
My brother likes saying "a penny earned" every time he puts money in his savings account.
If you interrupt a direct quote in the middle of a sentence, capitalize the first part of the sentence, but don't capitalize the second part. This rule also applies when you're creating dialogue for fictional characters.
"A penny saved," said Benjamin Franklin, "is a penny earned."
What punctuation should I use where?
Always surround quotes with quotation marks. If the entire quote is one sentence without an identification tag added on, use end punctuation as usual.
"I like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches." Mark smiled as he spread jam on a piece of bread. "They're like lunch and dessert all in one!"
See how each quote begins with a quotation mark and has another one after the end punctuation? This changes just a bit if you add an identification tag to then end of a sentence starting with dialogue or a quote. If the quote needs to end in an exclamation mark or a question mark, end it with one and add the end quotation mark before the identification tag. Then end the sentence with a period. If they quote needs to end in a period, end it with a comma instead and close the quotation. Save the period for the actual end of the sentence.
"Do you like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?" Anna asked.
"I like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," said Mark.
If the quotation is at the end of your sentence, use a comma before the start quote to set it off, and end the sentence as usual with the end quote after the period, question mark, or exclamation point.
Anna asked, "Do you like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?"
Mark said, "Yes, I do."
If you sandwich an identifying phrase in the middle of the quotation, use a comma and an end quote to close the first part of the quotation. Then use another comma to end the identifying phrase before starting the second half of the quotation with another start quote, and put the end quote after the end punctuation.
"Please get the eggs out of the refrigerator," Anna said, "and bring them here."
Why do people sometimes put quotation marks around certain letters, words, or phrases?
Here's where people get into trouble a lot of the time. Outside of using quotation marks to indicate direct quotes, they are also used to recognize a cliche is being used, to indicate the title of a short work like a poem or short story, to specify the author is speaking about the use of a specific word or letter, and to indicate sarcastic or ironic usage.
If you read this blog as a whole, you might have notice I place quotes around the titles of all the flash fictions or short stories like "From the Ashes" or "Variable X," but I italicize the titles of novels or other books like Right of Succession or Daydreams and Myth. This is to denote the difference between short works and longer ones. You might also have noticed quotation marks showing up if I ever mention things like "burning bridges" or "looking on the bright side." That's because those phrases have been used so often they have become cliches burned into our cultural lexicon, and the quotations are an acknowledgment of this fact.
Some people seem to believe quotation marks can also be used to add emphasis to key words or phrases. This is not true though, and it is the cause of a lot of misunderstandings and unfortunate business signs. When quotation marks are placed around certain words or phrases without attribution to someone having said it, you should read it as sarcasm or ironic wording usually meaning the opposite.
When you consider that, certain signs you might have come across take on different meanings.
"Free" wi-fi. = There's wi-fi, but they're probably hiding the fees somewhere in the bill.
All dishes are made with "fresh and organic" ingredients. = Be very suspicious of the food served here. It could be fresh and organic or dug out of the neighbor's dumpster.
Cats and dogs "welcome." = They might let you have a cat or a dog, but the rules are probably going to be a pain or impossible to follow.
I fully acknowledge the people who write these signs could be completely unaware of what their signs imply to those who know grammar rules. However, there's always the chance the sign author knows this and uses this common misunderstanding to hide suspect practices in plain sight.
Doubt it's a common thing? Just go check out The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks.
There you have a basic overview of how, when, and where to use quotation marks. If you have any comments or questions, leave them down below, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.
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A. B. England is a novelist, all around geek, avid crafter, and the home-schooling mother of two.
She is an autistic creator with a love of mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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