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Single or double quotation (speech) marks

The Quick Answer
It is normal to use double quotation marks for a quotation and then to use single quotation marks for any quotations nested therein. (It is permissible to do this the other way around, i.e., use doubles within singles.) Whatever convention you choose, be consistent.

When using quotation marks, it is normal to start with double quotations marks (e.g., "like these"). If quotation marks are then required within that quotation, you should use single quotation marks.

Examples:
  • Anne asked: "Are you really going to see 'Phantom of the Opera'?"
  • The articles states: "A giant squid may have attacked the 'Marie Celeste' as the crew celebrated on the deck."


singles within doubles &ndash correct
(magazine article)
  • The Defence Secretary stood up and declared: "At 0600 hours tomorrow, "Ark Royal" will set sail with her full complement of crew."
  • (Marking this wrong is a bit harsh. There is a lot of leniency on this ruling. The only agreed rule is that singles and doubles should not be mixed at the same level.)
  • Homer Simpson said: "Maybe, just once, someone will call me 'Sir' without adding 'you're making a scene'."
Top Tip

Don't Worry

This is not a hard and fast rule. In fact, several notable style guides recommend that doubles be used within singles. For example:
  • Clapping slowly, Julian stood up and cried: 'That was even better than your performance of "Twelfth Night" in London last year.'

Many writers prefer to use single quotation marks because they look less unwieldy.
  • The 'a' has fallen off the sign.
  • The "a" has fallen off the sign.
In summary, a writer can use doubles or singles in the first instance. However, whichever style is chosen, its use should be consistent throughout the document.


inconsistent use of singles and doubles
(magazine article)