Skip to main content

Correctly Using Quotation Marks and Italics

In this post, I am trying to generalize and contrast the rules of using quotation marks and italics correctly in written communication. Most of the time, these are interchangeable, and on certain occasions, this interchangeability causes confusion. So, the rules specify specific use for each of them, and it should be followed carefully in order to avoid confusion in meaning.

Quotation Marks

Use quotation marks whenever you report directly what another person said. This can be single quotation mark or double. The Americans usually use double while the British follow single quotation marks.

Roger said, “I will be off for tomorrow.”
Mike said, ‘Would you like to come with me for a ride?’
‘I can’t come with you,’ Roger said, ‘as I have another business for tomorrow.’
Roger’s comment that he has ‘another business for tomorrow’ made Mike change his plans.

Please note that when you begin a quotation, it should be with capital letter, just as you begin a sentence. But when a quotation has begun in a sentence, and its second part is enclosed in the same sentence in another pair of quotes, there is no need for capitalizing, as in the third sentence. The same holds good when you report what someone said, as part of the sentence, as in the fourth example above.

When you put quotation within a quotation, follow this rule of thumb: If the outside quote is single, use double inside, and so on, and vice versa.
Roger said, “Mary said, ‘John said, “I am confused.”’”

Difference in Using Quotes from Italics

Minor works of literature and art, may use quotation marks instead of italics. And the major works of art should use italics.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is my all time favorite.
Agatha Christie’s ‘The Distressed Lady’ is one of my favorite detective stories.

To refer to sacred texts or legal documents, do not use quotation marks or italics. It should be Bible, Koran, Gita, etc.

Quotes or Italics for Irony?

Use quotes in such sentences as below. Here, the word ‘help’ means something that caused trouble rather than what it is intended to. So, it is used ironically.

John’s ‘help’ caused a debt of thousands of dollars for the company.

Unfamiliar words and any new words introduced in the context use italics. Subsequent occurrences of the word may be written without italicizing.

Search Engine Optimization is a new method of marketing.

When expressing the meanings of foreign words, use italics for the word referred and express its meaning in quotes.

The word origami in Japanese means “art of folding paper.”

Putting Other Punctuations

Commas, periods, question marks, exclamation marks, dashes, etc., are always put inside the quotation marks.

Mary asked, “May I come in?”
Kay replied, “Yes, please be seated,” and sat down herself.

But semicolons and colons should be placed outside quotation marks.

Kay said, “I will go tomorrow”; that was not acceptable to Mary.


Use this rules whenever you are in confusion.

When introducing the name of anything that can stand by itself, use italics. This includes great works of art, names of books, films, big magazines, newspapers, companies, foreign words, any masterpieces, etc.

Use quotes when you are referring to simple words in English, expressed in a different meaning in the context or in reporting what someone else used.

Italics are used in written works like novels and short fiction to set off what somebody is thinking.

Joe said, “I can do it,” and thought, It is going to be rather difficult.


Read other punctuation help articles, available under the common banner, Punctuation from the categories. Place your comments and suggests.

Books on Punctuation From Amazon:

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008


  1. What's the correct format for lengthy quotes indented and separate from the paragraph. I'd like to put these quotes in italics and wonder whether quotation marks are also needed. This is for a book. The quotes are all scripture reference from the Bible. Thanks

  2. For lengthy quotes, I suggest using separate font and background color. Perhaps you can put a line beside it spanning the full height of the quote as done by many web publishers. When publishing online, I use the blockquote element (<blockquote>) to separate the quote. So, it would be published as thus: <blockquote>This is a quote</blockquote>

    I have put style on this element so that it is spaced from the main body, and italicized. But I don't use quotes explicitly.

    Separated from the normal text with italicized text. You can use normal or italicized, with or without quotes. Just make sure you separate it from the main text.

  3. When using quotes when you are referring to simple words in English, expressed in a different meaning in the context or in reporting what someone else used, do you continue to use quotes every time you use the word throughout the rest of the document?

  4. No. Don't use the quotes every time. Only the first time it is enough. You can omit the quote in the rest of the passage.

  5. when you use quotations for slang, do you continue to use them every time you refer to the particular slang?


Post a Comment

Comments are moderated very strictly

Popular posts from this blog

What Is the Difference Between Hardcover and Paperback?

Today, my reader, Rahman contacted me with a doubt:

Dear Lenin, would you explain why there are two types of books: hardcover and paperback?
This is quite a simple affair and there are explanatory articles to be found at various places on the Net. Here is my addition.


A hardcover aka hardback is a book bound with thick protective cover, with usually a paper or leather dust jacket over the main cover. The aim of hardcover is protection and durability. These books are mainly for long-term use and collectors’ editions. Hardcover books last far longer than the corresponding paperbacks. They do not get damaged easily thus making them perfect for reference guides, great literary works, etc.

In addition, there is a difference in the type of paper used to print hardcover books. The paper used is long-lasting acid-free type. Acid-free paper has a pH value of 7 (neutral) which makes it highly durable. The papers are stitched and glued to the spine.

Hardbacks are prepared for commercial …

En Dash, Em Dash, and Hyphen

We have three types of dashes in use: The hyphen, En Dash, and the Em Dash. In this post, we will see how to use them all correctly.

Hyphen (-)

The hyphen is the minus key in Windows-based keyboards. This is a widely used punctuation mark. Hyphen should not be mistaken for a dash. Dash is different and has different function than a hyphen.

A hyphen is used to separate the words in a compound adjective, verb, or adverb. For instance:

The T-rex has a movement-based vision.
My blog is blogger-powered.
John’s idea was pooh-poohed.

The hyphen can be used generally for all kinds of wordbreaks.

En Dash (–)

En Dash gets its name from its length. It is one ‘N’ long (En is a typographical unit that is almost as wide as 'N'). En Dash is used to express a range of values or a distance:

People of age 55–80 are more prone to hypertension.
Delhi–Sidney flight was late by three hours.

In MS Word, you can put an En Dash either from the menu, clicking Insert->Symbol or by the key-combination, Ctrl + Num…

What Is the Meaning of the Word 'Ghajini'? Story and Trivia of Aamir Khan's New Film [Special]

[Special Entry]

Aamir Khan's latest film is titled a little weirdly for the taste of Hindi filmgoers. 'Ghajini': They have never heard of such a name, and such a word never existed in Hindi or in any other Indian language.

The name Ghajini is the name of the villain of the film. In Tamil version, the name of the villain was Laxman.

As a Tamil moviegoer, I have already watched Ghajini and know the story in full.

So, What Does the Title Mean?

In Tamil, the title of the film is inspired by the story of Mahmud of Ghazni, an ancient invader of India. This person was so persistent in invading India that he continued trying after several failures. In the film too, the protagonist is such persistent in finding out and killing the villain of the film, who had killed his girlfriend, Kalpana (played by Asin). Aamir's Character (named Sanjay Ramaswamy in Tamil), is a short-term amnesiac, who cannot remember anything more than fifteen minutes.

You may ask then how the Ghazni became…