Reading Writing Center | Microlab 8

Microlab 8 – Quotation Marks and Italics

Quotation marks and italics set off or give special emphasis to words or phrases in a sentence.

This Microlab will help you:

  • - Understand how quotation marks and italics should be used.

Review of Quotation Marks and Italics


I. Direct Quotations:

A direct quotation is the exact wording that someone says or writes. Use quotation marks to enclose that word/phrase:

Correct:  “Check your quotation marks,” the teacher suggested.
In this example, the quotation marks separate the teacher’s exact words—“Check your quotation marks”—from the writer’s words at the end of the sentence. The words spoken by the teacher are a direct quotation.

Here are more examples of direct quotations separated from the rest of the sentence by quotation marks:

		“Welcome home!”          Bob called.
	          (what Bob/Pam said)   (what the writer adds)
		“This exam is easy,”        Pam said.
Incorrect: You surely don’t expect me to believe that your cow can read, I protested.
Correct: “You surely don’t expect me to believe that your cow can read,” I protested.

Incorrect:  No, the farmer said, my cow doesn’t read much anymore.
Correct:   “No,” the farmer said, “my cow doesn’t read much anymore.”

Incorrect:  I should hope not, I muttered.
Correct:   “I should hope not,” I muttered. 

Incorrect:  You see, the farmer added, she broke her glasses last summer.
Correct:   “You see,” the farmer added, “she broke her glasses last summer.”

II. Indirect Quotations:

An indirect quotation is when you are saying what someone said but without using their exact words. Do not use quotation marks in an indirect quotation:

Incorrect:  Susan said that, “She would visit her family next weekend.”
Correct:     Susan said that she would visit her family next weekend. 
No quotation marks are used in an indirect quotation because the exact words of the speaker are not quoted. You know that it is not a direct quote because Susan wouldn’t use “She” to refer to herself!

These are some more good examples of indirect quotations:

Correct:  George said that he would take four classes next semester.
Correct:  His professor advised him not to take on more work than he could handle.
Correct:  George felt that she gave sound advice.
Indirect quotations are often (but not always) introduced by the word that.

III. Titles:

Use quotation marks to enclose the title of a short poem, short story, song, TV show, essay, or chapter:

	Short poem:	“In Just Spring”
	Short story:	“Why I Live at the P.O.”
	Song:		“Yesterday”
	TV show:	“Friends”
	Essay:		“Politics in the ‘80s”
	Chapter:	“Desert Insects”
Later in this review, we will see that italics are used to mark titles of longer works. You can avoid confusing quotation marks and italics for titles by keeping this rule in mind: short works—poems, short stories, essays, and so forth—take short marks: “ ”.

IV. Irony:

Use quotation marks to enclose words used in an ironic sense (that is, in a sense quite different from their surface meaning):

Correct: The “victim” seemed to enjoy the TV coverage.
The word “victim” appears in quotation marks to suggest that the person enjoys the media attention too much to be called a victim.

The “chess master” was exposed as a con artist.
A person claiming to be a chess expert turns out to be something quite different.

The use of quotation marks to suggest irony can often be confusing to the reader. Overuse may also take away from the emphasis. Therefore, use this technique sparingly in your writing.

When using quotation marks, follow these rules:

V. Capitalizations:

Capitalize the first word of a direct quotation if the direct quotation is a complete sentence on its own:

Incorrect:  Jack asked, “would you like to go out for a pizza?”
Correct: “I’d love to,” Mary replied, “but I have a date tonight.”
Correct: “We can go later,” John said. “Why don’t you call me when you’re free?”

VI. Commas and Periods:

Correct: “That’s right,” the professor said. “Now try the next problem.”

VII. Exclamation Points and Question Marks:

Exclamation points and question marks are placed inside the quotation mark only when they are part of the direct quotation:

Correct: The doctor asked, “Are you dizzy?”
--> In this sentence, the question mark goes inside the quotation mark because the quotation itself is a question.
Correct: Did the doctor say, “Come back next week”?

VIII. Colons and Semicolons:

Colons and semicolons at the end of the quote are placed outside the quotation mark:

Correct:  Her friend said, “Think twice about that class”; however, Jill had her mind made up. 

IX. A Quote within a Quote:

If one direct quotation contains another, the second quotation is set off by single quotation marks.

Correct: “When Victor says, ‘I’ll be there,’ I believe him,” I explained.


X. Use italics for titles of books, plays, movies, magazines and newspapers.

Book: The Sound and the Fury
Play: Macbeth
Movie: Horror in the Supermarket
Newspaper: Daily News Post
To avoid confusing italicized titles with quoted titles, remember this rule: For a long work—a book, play, movie, and so forth—use a long mark: italics.

XI. Use italics for foreign words and phrases that have not become a part of the English language through common usage.

We ate enchilada de pollo in Mexico City.
Our Japanese guest used the word hai in almost every sentence. 

XII. Use italics/underlines for emphasis. Writers sometimes use italics to give special emphasis to a word or phrase that might be stressed if spoken.

Your audience cares more about what you have to say than how you say it.
You should use italics/underlines for emphasis only occasionally in your writing. Generally, the full intent and tone of a sentence should be carried by the words themselves, not by lines beneath words and phrases.

XIII. Finally, use italics to set off words used as words or letters used as letters. Also use italics for a word or term that is being defined.

The use of herewith makes your letter sound stiff.
She counted all the words beginning with b in the poem.
The term hepatic refers to a liver condition.


Use quotation marks for

  • - someone’s exact words
  • - titles of short works
  • - words used in an ironic sense
Use underlining (on a computer use italics) for

  • emphasis
  • words and letters used as such, or for a word or term being defined
  • titles of books, plays, movies, or newspapers
  • foreign words