Posted on: December 17, 2014

Ask-a-Coach: Double or single quotation marks?

Ask-a-Coach: Double or single quotation marks?

Q: I never understood why we have single quotation marks ( ‘ ). When do we use them and when do we just stick with the regular double quotation marks ( ” )?  -Quotation mark Quandary in Fairfax, VA

A: This is a simple rule because in American English we really use the single quotation marks ( ‘ ) for one purpose (according to APA, of course): to set off a quote within a quote (American Psychological Association, 2010).

Take the following text, for example:

Smith (1993) said that, ” Paul Revere shouting, ‘The British are coming!’ is dubious at best” (p. 299).

Notice that Smith said that Paul Revere shouted, so we need two marks to indicate who said what, hence the single and double quotation marks (APA, 2010).

On a similar note, writers also use single quotation marks in block quotes:

Smith (1993) said the following:

            Readers of history must separate truth from myth when reading about stories from long ago.    
            While some history teachers, for example, fervently teach that Paul Revere had his own slogan, 
            others remain unsure. In fact, in a national poll of history teachers, 53% believe that Paul Revere 
          shouting, ‘The British are coming!’ which has come to be a slogan that has rung throughout history and 
          tourist gift shops alike, is dubious at best. (p. 299)
Notice here that while we do not use double quotation marks, we would still use single quotation marks when quoting Paul Revere’s slogan (however dubious it may be) (APA, 2010).
Now that we have the basics clarified, I wonder…what about a quote within a quote within a quote?

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). (2010). 
                      Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.