Having trouble differentiating single and double quotes? Don’t worry; you are certainly not the only one. With just a quick read and a few applications, you’ll never doubt yourself again (with the usage of quotation marks that is).
Emerging in the 1800’s, the single quotation mark was used as an indication of a secondary level of quotation. It is a punctuation mark that is used in pairs in various writing systems to denote direct speech, a phrase, or a quotation. It consists of an opening quotation mark and a closing quotation mark. While there are just a few usages of single quotes in the English language, it does have a variety of forms in different languages and in different media.
In English writing, single quotes are used in pairs around a phrase or even a word. It may indicate a quotation, or a quotation inside a quotation. In American English however, unlike British English, single quotes are normally used inside another pair of quote marks.
- “When Marjorie says ‘Now’, she means now”, said the CEO.
- “When the manager said to Joe, ‘you’re fired!’ everybody went silent”, said Jane.
In other uses, a single quote can also denote a title within a quote.
- “I told him to watch ‘Serendipity’ because it’s my favorite”, said Jane.
- “Did you watch ‘Silence of the Lambs’?”, asked John.
In other uses, a single quote can also be used to enclose a quote within a headline.
- Local official says, ‘Negotiations in Progress’.
- ‘There will be a gun ban’, says the president.
Although technically correct, the use of single quote to mark a quote is uncommon in countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the US.
Note: In British English, single and double quotation marks can be used in reverse, single quotes for dialogues and double quotes for quotations within dialogues.
Double quotes are known to have been derived from a 15th century manuscript annotations where they were used to indicate importance, and not necessarily quotations. By the 17th century, it became common to use double quotes to denote quoted material, especially in Britain. Not just in English languages (American and British), other languages also adopted double quotes to denote a quote. The same as single quotes, it consists of an opening quotation mark and a closing quotation mark.
Double quotes are normally used to mark a speech in writing, and are placed around a phrase or a word.
- “Hello Grace”, said John.
- When I asked him how his day was, he answered “not fine at all”.
Double quotes may also be used to denote titles of short works like articles or TV shows.
- The “Fistful of Paintballs” episode of Community was the best.
- I can’t wait for the “Battle of the Bastards” episode of Game of Thrones.
In other uses, double quotes can also be used as an emphasis on a special word or to denote irony and sarcasm, especially in American English.
- I like the word “sarcasm”, do you?
- The assaulter said to the judge that it was an act of “self-defense”.
They may look the same, and confusingly, may even have the same usage, but there are differences that should be known to distinguish them from each other.
In the UK, the use of single quotes to mark direct speech actually depends on the editorial style, but both single and double are acceptable. In the U.S. however, single quotes are normally used to denote a quote inside a direct speech. This means that we use the single quote when quoting someone that quotes a quote; the double quote on the other hand, is used for direct speech. To simplify, use double quotes to mark a quote, and single quotes to mark a quote within a quote.
Now when using it for emphasis, the double quote would be the more appropriate choice, especially when writing in American English. It also is the correct choice when using a phrase or a word to denote irony or sarcasm. However, when enclosing a title within a quote, while it may seem appropriate to use double quotes, single quotes is the better choice in this kind of instance.
While quotations are unavoidable for most types of writing, it’s best to learn how to limit them, as their use can make a piece of writing seem heavy-handed. Just remember, normally we use single quotes to mark a quote within a quote, or title within a quote, or a quote within a headline. To easily remember the usage, think of the word within. With double quotes on the other hand, use them to mark a quote, a title, or to emphasize a word; this practice is also known as scare quotes.
Note: When using scare quotes within a quote, use single quotes instead.
|Single Quotes||Double Quotes|
|‘ ‘||“ “|
|Marks a quote within a quote||Marks a quote|
|Marks a title within a quote||Marks a title|
|Marks a quote within a headline||Places emphasis on a word|
Here is a simple but informative video on how to use single and double quotation marks in AmE.