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Punctuating Quoted Material.

There is some debate about whether embedded quotations should be in single or double quotation marks. Consistency is vital. The University English Department's style guide recommends single quotation marks; these have been used in the examples here.

According to Vincent, working memory is 'the cognitive powerhouse, the central processing station of the brain' (Cognitive Psychology, p27).

If the quoted material contains some direct speech, the direct speech should be bounded by double speech marks.

Bottom thinks he would make a wonderful lion: 'I will roar, that I will make the Duke say "Let him roar again let him roar again!"' (Midsummer Night's Dream, I.ii.67-9).

(Many thanks to the English Department's style guide for the above example.)

Speeches from plays do not require quotation marks.

If there is a line break in the original verse that is being quoted, indicate it with a diagonal slash, and keep the original capitalisation.

Horatio tells Hamlet that the watchmen have seen 'a figure like your father / Armed at point exactly, cap-à-pie' (Hamlet, I.ii.199-200).

(Many thanks to the English Department's style guide for the above example.)

There is no need to use quotation marks with indented quotations. The original punctuation, capitalisation and indentation of lines should be left exactly as they are in the original. The reference should be in brackets at the right hand side after the quotation. There is no punctuation mark after the reference.

The punctuation mark needed to introduce an embedded quotation will depend on the structure and flow of the sentence and the quotation. The quotation can be introduced with a colon (but never a semi-colon), a comma or nothing. Consider the following examples:

Hilary Clinton is keenly aware of the opportunities she has had: 'My mother and grandmothers could never have lived my life; my father and grandfathers could never have imagined it' (Living History).

As the Bible says, 'it is better to live on the corner of a roof than to share a house with a nagging wife' (Proverbs).

Moore believes that 'dentists must have gotten together and decided that the real money was in root canals and a full set of X-rays every time you go in' (Hey Dude, Where's My Country).

Indented quotations also are often introduced with a colon.

The writer is often at pains to point out the many ways in which an ordinary experience can be made into a 'millionaire' experience:

When you are on holiday, there is no need to be wealthy to feel like a millionaire. The trick is to know when to spend that little bit extra and to make the experience into something special and memorable. If you are looking out across the perfect calm of a Mediterranean sunset, use that £20 you kept back and have a nice bottle of wine. You will remember the moment for the rest of your life, and, for that moment, you are living like a millionaire.

(How to Live Like a Millionaire of an Average Salary)

Sometimes your own introduction can lead straight into the quotation, which can begin in mid sentence.

Comparing descriptions of funerals by H.G.Wells and by Dickens, E.M.Forster argues that they have

... the same point of view and even use the same tricks of style ...

They are both humourists and visualisers who get an effect by cataloguing details and whisking the page over irritably.

(Aspects of the Novel, p.33)

If strictly necessary you may use square brackets [ ] to add something to make a quotation clearer.

MacBeth says that 'she [Lady MacBeth] should have died hereafter' (V.iii.16).

However, this is thought to be bad practice and should be avoided if possible. It is far better to change the form of your sentence to avoid the confusion that the square brackets might need to clear up.

MacBeth says of his wife, 'she should have died hereafter' (V.iii.16).

If your own sentence continues on after the end of an embedded quotation, you should omit the final punctuation mark in the quotation unless it is an exclamation mark or a question mark that is important for the sense of the quoted material.

You should put a full stop after the reference so that it is not left hanging between two sentences.

As the Bible says, 'it is better to live on the corner of a roof than to share a house with a nagging wife.' (Proverbs) Many men would agree with these sentiments. (Incorrect)

As the Bible says, 'it is better to live on the corner of a roof than to share a house with a nagging wife' (Proverbs). Many men would agree with these sentiments. (Correct)

An indented quotation should end with a full stop, question mark or exclamation mark if that is what the quoted passage ends with. If you have stopped quoting before the end of the original passage, you should use an ellipsis (...) to indicate you have not quoted the original in full. No punctuation is required after the reference for an indented quotation.

Other uses of quotation marks

Quotation marks can be used to indicate short titles of songs, poems etc that would not normally stand alone.

Abba's finest hour was undoubtedly 'Dancing Queen'.

Note that the full stop here is outside the quotation marks. This is in line with UK convention which tends to be logical in its placing of punctuation marks.

What do you think of Abba's 'Dancing Queen'?

Test your understanding of punctuating quotations in this exercise.