And he said, “Let’s look at quotation marks and punctuation.”
The name of those nifty little floaters, the quotation marks, gives us a decent clue as to what they are used for–to set apart what a person has said at any point in time, which is later repeated verbatim by another. But quoted speech needs punctuation, and it needs to be in the right place. Let’s see if we can give you an insight on how this should be done.
Single word quote.
Even if a quote is just a single quoted word, it goes inside quotation marks.
She said, “Walk.”
You see? The period also goes inside the quotation marks to end the sentence as well as the quote itself. Easy, and logical.
Quoting a question.
What if the quote is a question? Then the question mark goes inside quotation marks.
She asked, “Can you walk?”
But what if we ask about a quote? Ah, there you have an exception to the rule. Then the question mark goes outside the quotation marks.
Can you tell me if she said, “If he can’t walk, he falls”?
There is no punctuation ending the quoted sentence. That’s because we only need one ending punctuation with punctuation marks and, like in nature, the strongest wins. Question trumps period. Hence, no period after falls is needed. And what if there’s a question about a quoted question? Sounds difficult, doesn’t it? It’s not. Question and quote have equally strong question marks, so which one should win? Since we use only one ending punctuation (we’re talking about the US rules now), we place it inside the quotation marks.
Can you tell me if she asked, “Did he fall?”
Quoting inside a quote.
Now let’s get wild and quote inside a quote. Do we then end up with rows and rows of quotation marks? Nah, that would be funny and confusing. You can just use a set of double ones for the whole quote and single ones for the quote inside the quote. (Remember we’re still looking at the US rules.) Can you still follow what I’m saying? Wait, let me show you.
He said, “Can you tell me if she asked, ‘Did he fall?’”
As you can see, there are only three floaters at the end of the sentence and again the ending punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.
A direct quote.
To make it even simpler, we only use quotation marks to set off a direct quotation.
“When did he fall?” she asked.
But not when you use the following sentence: She asked when he fell.
That is essentially the same as above, only it is not a direct quote. Hence, no quotation marks.
Exceptions, don’t you just love them? They establish the rules and keep us on our tippytoes.
What if we have a really long quote? Say, more than three lines in length? (That is actually the rule, or was it the exception?) Anyway, when we have such a long quote, there are no quotation marks at all. Instead we use the colon.
What! A colon? I thought a colon’s used for the introduction of a list? Yeah, it is, but we use it for looong quotes, too.
Let’s take a sidestep into colon land. When a quote is too long for proper quotation marks, we use the colon after the introductory sentence and leave a blank line above and below the quote.
Not that we will use block quotes often in fiction, but if you should ever write a non-fiction article and you need to quote another source, it will come in handy to know how to handle a big chunk of text.
Like in this following example where a trait from a certain character is unearthed by the use of quoting other data.
The old text presented explained it like this:
George G. Gruesommich went walking in a bush and stared at the trees until he was an absolute, green-eyed, brown-fingered, soil-smeared forest fiend. His feet were so dirty, he could no longer run, and he fell on his nose, which was now just as soil-smeared as the rest of his body.
After reading that, the reason for his disliking of gardening is obvious.
Quoting text that has an error in spelling or grammar.
And finally there is always the chance that you have to quote something with a SPaG error. For that we have sic, which basically means “This is how the original material was.” We place it in italics and in brackets after the mistake.
In the other text it was written, “This is how the originale [sic] material was.”
I hope this summary gives you a better understanding of quotation marks and how to properly punctuate around them. Go on, have your characters speak up, or let them even quote one another. Have fun “quoting the quoted.”