Quotation marks draw attention to words and reference certain kinds of titles. Write most direct speech in single quote marks. For long quotes, use block quotes without quotation marks.
Quote direct speech in single quote marks
Single quotation marks are also known as ‘quote marks’, ‘quotes’, ‘speech marks’ or ‘inverted commas’.
Use them to:
- show direct speech and the quoted work of other writers
- enclose the title of certain works
- draw attention to a word you’re defining.
Double quotation marks aren’t Australian Government style. Use them only for quotations within quotations.
Short quotations of direct speech are enclosed in single quotation marks.
- ‘Yes, that’s all that happened,’ she replied.
- The opposition leader asked, ‘But where’s the money going to come from?’
Don’t use quotation marks for long quotations. Instead, use block quotes.
Quotes within quotes
For quotations within quotations, use double quotation marks inside single ones.
He also wrote, ‘The decisions of the department for “major procurement” were always political choices.’
Omissions in direct speech
When quoting direct speech, take great care to be accurate. Writers and publishers have been sued for inaccurate quotations attributed as direct speech.
If you use ellipses for omitted words, ensure that the omission won’t mislead readers about the content or tone of the source you’re quoting.
- He said, ‘I don’t agree with the proposal because we need to do more research.’
- He said, ‘I don’t agree with the proposal …’
- He said, ‘I don’t agree with the proposal.’
- He said, ‘I … agree with the proposal.’
If the quotation needs the information for context, add specific detail in square brackets. You must be sure that the specific detail is correct and that it retains the meaning intended by the original speaker.
‘The [Queensland] government agrees.’
If you paraphrase omitted material, place the paraphrasing in square brackets.
‘They all listened to [the new manager’s] speech.’
Errors in quoted material
Quoted material sometimes contains a spelling or grammatical error.
To show the error is in the original, insert an italicised ‘sic’ in non-italicised square brackets after the error. This shows the reader that the error comes from the original.
The email read, ‘At the time, the population of Sydney was much higher than Melberne [sic].’
Non-Australian English quotes
In quoted material use the original spelling of the quoted material, even if it uses US spellings such as ‘color’. The capitalisation of words must also be the same as in the original.
If the US material uses the US conventions for quotation marks, you can update them to the Australian convention.
The President said, ‘The Prime Minister told me “No”, so I’m working on an updated plan.’
The President said, “The Prime Minister told me ‘No,’ so I’m working on an updated plan.”
Format long quotes as block quotes with no quotation marks
Quotations that are longer than about 30 words are:
- usually indented from the text margin
- sometimes set in a smaller font size or a different font.
When they are set like this, they are called ‘block quotations’.
Don’t use quotation marks to identify the quoted material – the formatting does that instead. Block quotes should also be coded with the HTML <blockquote> element.
As Templeton (2019) writes:
According to the ACT Auditor-General, the transport benefits from the project are projected to be lower than the costs. She noted other benefits that had been included by the ACT Government to justify the project.
To include several paragraphs of quoted speech without the attribution tag, such as in a media release, use a quotation mark:
- at the beginning of each paragraph
- at the end of the last paragraph only.
- Dr Nicoll said, ‘My experience as a public servant helped me learn how to run workshops.
- ‘My experience also helps me make my workshops practical.’
Write speech in transcripts and plays with no quotation marks
Quotation marks are unnecessary in transcripts and plays if the name of the speaker comes before the direct speech.
- Senator MARCELLUS: Look at the latest report. These results aren’t great.
- Dr BERNARDO: I’ve seen this happen before. It looks like we might be over budget.
The same applies for questions and answers (Q&As).
Q. Have you ever been convicted of an offence, other than a parking or speeding offence?
Refer to certain kinds of titles using quotation marks
When referring to these titles, use quotation marks in references and citations:
- a chapter in a book or report
- an article in a periodical
- an essay
- a lecture
- a poem
- a song.
Read the chapter titled ‘Number and natural language’ in The innate mind: structure and contents. It describes how people learn to recognise numbers.
Draw attention to words using quotation marks
You can use quotation marks instead of italics to make words stand out from your sentence. Examples include:
- a technical term on its first mention in a non-technical document
- a word or phrase that has been coined or that you’re using in a specific sense
- colloquial words, nicknames, slang, or ironic or humorous words and phrases, in formal writing.
You don’t usually need to repeat the quotation marks the next time you use the word. They might be useful if the next mention is a long way from the first.
Another use of quotation marks is for words introduced by expressions such as ‘titled’, ‘marked’, ‘the term’ and ‘defined as’.
- The papers were marked ‘Five Eyes only’.
- Can anyone here define ‘entropion’?
- The survey used the term ‘companion animal’ to describe assistance dogs in workplaces.
- He said the new policy was ‘obviously a great success’ and then explained its many failings.
Keep quoted punctuation marks in the quote
Punctuation in and after quotation marks depends on the punctuation of the quoted text and how it is used in the content.
If the punctuation mark is part of the quoted text, place the punctuation mark before the closing quotation mark.
- ‘Is it okay to ask a colleague out for a coffee?’ I asked the HR section.
- He asked, ‘Has it arrived?’
The same rule applies for directly quoted speech followed by the attribution.
- ‘It has arrived,’ said the manager.
- ‘Has it arrived?’ asked the manager.
If the punctuation mark is part of the sentence outside the quoted text, it follows the closing quotation mark.
- She said that it was ‘time to start work’.
- Many things have been called ‘the new black’, but they usually fade to grey.
- Did the complainant at any time ask you to ‘Please turn down the noise’?
Quoted material can appear as parenthetical information, enclosed in parentheses, dashes or commas. In these cases, place the quotation marks inside the sentence punctuation.
- His stirring speech (‘We shall never surrender’) galvanised the UK and its allies.
- His stirring speech – ‘We shall never surrender’ – galvanised the UK and its allies.
- His stirring speech, ‘We shall never surrender’, galvanised the UK and its allies.
If the quotation ends a sentence or is a sentence in its own right, place the final full stop before the final quotation mark.
- She said, ‘It’s time to start work.’
- ‘When we get the final figures,’ the manager said, ‘we’ll know how it will affect our bottom line.’
- ‘I have the final figures,’ the manager said. ‘This will ruin our bottom line.’
Sometimes, there are 2 punctuation marks – one for the quotation and one for the sentence. Decide which is stronger and use it. Don’t use both punctuation marks.
- The Speaker called ‘Order!’
- Did you hear him say, ‘That’s unlikely’?
- The Speaker called ‘Order!’.
- Did you hear him say, ‘That’s unlikely.’?
The surrounding text determines the font (roman, italic, or bold) of the quotation marks. If the content inside the quotation marks is in italics, but the sentence is in roman, use roman for the quotation marks.
- She described it as ‘weird’. [The quotation marks are in roman even though ‘weird’ is in italics.]
- ‘Wow,’ he said. [Both the quote marks and the quote are in roman type.]
The digital edition revises advice about punctuation used with quotation marks. It departs from advice in the sixth edition about the position of punctuation and quotation marks in sentences interrupted by expressions, such as ‘they said’.
The sixth edition recommended the comma be placed outside the quotation mark, before the expression. The digital edition recommends the comma be placed inside the quotation mark: the quotation mark comes directly before the expression.
The Content Guide had advice on the use of single and double quotation marks, with which the digital edition is consistent.
About this page
Oxford University Press (2016) ‘9.2 Layout of quoted text’, New Oxford style manual, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
University of Chicago (2017) ‘6.40 Commas with quotations’, Chicago manual of style, 17th edn, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Dixon JC and Bolitho B (2005–2019) Course notes and exercises: editing and proofreading for the workplace, Centre for Continuing Education, Australian National University, Canberra.
Houston K (2015) The long and fascinating history of quotation marks’, Slate, accessed 20 February 2020.
Microsoft Corporation (2019) Keyboard shortcuts in Word: insert international characters, Microsoft website, accessed 1 December 2019.
Mozilla (n.d.) ‘<blockquote>: The Block Quotation element’, HTML elements, MDN Web Docs website, accessed 3 December 2020.
Murphy EM and Cadman H (2014) Effective writing: plain English at work, 2nd edn, Lacuna, 2014.
Owen M (2018) How to type accented letters in macOS three different ways, appleinsider website, accessed 4 December 2019.
Oxford University Press (2016) ‘Quotations and direct speech’, New Oxford style manual, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Seely J (2001) Oxford everyday grammar, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Stilman S (2004) Grammatically correct, Writer’s Digest Books, Ohio.
Truss L (2003) Eats, shoots and leaves: the zero tolerance approach to punctuation, Profile Books, London, 2003.
The Unicode Consortium (2019) Unicode, Unicode website, accessed 2 December 2019.
University of Chicago (2017) ‘6.115: “Smart” quotation marks’, Chicago manual of style, 17th edn, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C (n.d.) ‘HTML <blockquote> tag’, W3CSchools website, accessed 3 December 2020.
Whitbread D (2009) Design manual, 2nd edn, UNSW Press, Sydney, Australia.
This page was updated Monday 24 October 2022.