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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?

  6. I've looked everywhere. HELP. How would you punctuate "The sign ahead read no exit."? 1. The sign ahead read "No Exit." 2. The sign ahead read No Exit ( "no exit" italicized). Or as Stephen King does, 3. The sign ahead read NO EXIT." He caps stuff being read.

    1. The sign ahead read "No Exit."

    2. Thanks. Do you have a reference for that?

    3. Regular punctuation rules apply here. For instance:


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