When To Use Single Quotation Marks: When and Why to Use Them

Quotation marks, those double scoops in the air (” “), are certainly familiar to you. We use them both before and after we quote someone’s words or writings. However, what about the more slender equivalents, the single quote marks (‘ ‘)? Single quote marks aren’t used all that much, but when they are, they have a very useful function that helps prevent misunderstandings in writing.

The question still stands, though: When exactly do you use single quotation marks and when do you use double quotes? The guidelines for each are provided below, along with a discussion of the variations between British and American English quote marks.

What Are Single Quotation Marks?

Single quotation marks are punctuation marks that set off quotes inside larger quotes. They look like two apostrophes on either side of a piece of text (‘like this’).

Like double quotation marks, single quotation marks can be curly (curved toward the text) or straight (up and down). It depends on the font you’re using.

Examples of Single Quotation Marks in a Sentence

Although you may not see single quotation marks as much as double quotation marks in American English, they still pop up now and then.

  • The boy said, “Mr. Tucker asked me, ‘Is that your dog?’”
  • “The Gettysburg Address starts off ‘Four score and seven years ago,’” began the history teacher.
  • “She just said ‘See you later,’ and then left,” reported Kyle.

READ ALSO: When to Use There and Their: Unlocking the Mystery of ‘There’ and ‘Their’

When To Use Single Quotation Marks

In standard American English, you can use single quotation marks when it involves the more familiar double quotation marks, and when you are writing headlines.

Use Single Quotation Marks Within a Quotation

You can use a single quotation mark when citing someone inside a quotation. This approach has undoubtedly been utilized in a variety of essays, books, interviews, and news articles.

Use both single and double quotation marks to close the two quotes when the internal quote comes at the end of the entire quotation.

  • Paul exclaimed, “Joe was at the store and bumped into Michelle. When he saw her, he said, I hope we’ll see you at the party next Friday,‘ but she didn’t know anything about it!”
  • The news reporter said, “All of the stores on the block have burned down. One shop owner screamed, I cannot believe this is happening! as the flames engulfed her store.”
  • Jason told Mark, “I saw Cynthia the other day, and she said, I’m really looking forward to Mark’s graduation!
  • Her daughter asked, “Why did you call that man a ridiculous idiot?”

READ ALSO: When to Use Then and Than: A Quick Guide to Getting It Right

Use Single Quotation Marks in Headlines

You can use a single quotation in a headline if it is the title of a song, a short story, or a quote by someone, use single quotation marks. 

  • In the Words of The Beatles, ‘Let it Be’
  • The President Urges, ‘Don’t Worry, America’
  • ‘I Did it for My Kids,’ Says Heroic Mom
  • Candidate Promises ‘No More Taxes’

Punctuating Single Quotation Marks

The rules for using punctuation marks with single quotation marks are the same for double quotation marks: If the punctuation belongs to the quote, it stays inside the quotation marks.

But when the punctuation belongs to the outer quote and not the inner quote, it’s a different story. In these cases, the punctuation mark goes outside the single quotation mark, but inside the double quotation mark.

  • Suddenly Shelley yelled “Play Twist and Shout!” (The exclamation mark belongs to the outer quote, not the song title inside the quote)
  • “Who called you Mr. Meanie?” asked the teacher. (The question mark belongs to the outer quote, not the inner quote)

What Is The Difference Between Single and Double Quotation Marks

When used in a form, quotation marks, sometimes known as “quotes,” are basically commas that are pushed to the top rather than the bottom of a text line. While double quotation marks utilize two commas adjacent to each other, single quotation marks only use one comma and resemble the apostrophe. Whether the quotation marks appear at the start or conclusion of the quote determines which way they point.

In writing, double quotation marks appear like this:

According to the teacher, the test would be “the most difficult exam of the year.

“Our principal called it ‘the most difficult exam of the year,’” Almir complained to his parents.

So how do you know when to use single versus double quotation marks? Let’s take a look at each separately so you know when to use them.

When Should I Use Double Quotation Marks?

Double quotation marks in American English have five purposes:

1.  Quote a source

Double quotation marks show that a passage of text is copied word-for-word from another source. If you’re using another person’s text in your writing, put the copied words in between double quotation marks.

Example: James Daybell insists Shakespeare was educated because of how he wrote female characters, which “depict women across the social spectrum composing, reading, or delivering letters.”

READ ALSO: When To Use Too or To: Simplifying These Tricky Twins

2. Show dialogue or transcribe speech

Double quote marks are used for quoting speech and conversation, just like when citing other sources. In fiction writing, dialogue quotation marks are frequently used to depict character conversations; in nonfiction publications, they are employed to transcribe eyewitness or interviewee statements.

Example: “Would you like a drink?” the bartender asked robotically.

Please note that if you’re paraphrasing a direct quote, you don’t need quotation marks. The cashier asked if I wanted a receipt.

3. Showing titles

Double quotations can be used in the titles of short works like poems, songs, articles, short stories, essays, and episode titles. Use italics instead for long works like books, movies, plays, periodical names, and music albums.

Examples: “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” is my favorite short story from J. D. Salinger’s book Nine Stories.

SEE ALSO: When to Use ‘Whose’: Simplifying Possession in English

4. Splitting words, usually to signify irony, sarcasm, or skepticism

The double quotation is used to set apart words, especially to show irony, sarcasm, skepticism, or other nonstandard uses. When they’re used this way, these are known as “scare quotes,” and they typically express doubt in the validity of the word, with the same meaning as “so-called.”

Example: My daughter made me a “coffee mug” in art class, although it looked more like a bowl.

5 Differentiate a nickname from a given name

Lastly, double quotation marks are used to differentiate nicknames from given names. They usually surround the nickname when it comes between a person’s first and last names in writing.

Dwayne “The Bull” John Cena can’t escape his origins as a wrestler.

You may want to see When to Use ‘Me’ or ‘I’: Easy Tips for Correct Usage for Writers

Quotation Marks in American English vs. British English

All the above rules apply to quotation marks in America and most of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. But what about British English?

Quotation marks in British English reverse single and double quotation marks. What this means is that single quotation marks are the standard and double quotation marks are used only for a quote within a quote.

American English: “The bartender told me, ‘Anything you order is free,’” I said to the waiter.

British English: ‘The bartender told me, “Anything you order is free,”’ I said to the waiter.

FAQs On When To Use Single Quotation Marks

Can single quotation marks be used for emphasis?

While single quotation marks can be used for emphasis in informal contexts, it’s generally recommended to use italics or bold for emphasis in formal writing.

Should single quotation marks be used for titles of short works, like articles or poems?

Yes, single quotation marks are often used for titles of shorter works within larger works. For example: ‘The Road Not Taken’ is a famous poem by Robert Frost.

Should I use single quotation marks for words being defined or discussed?

Single quotation marks can be used to highlight specific terms or words being defined or discussed, especially if they are being used in a non-standard or ironic sense. For example: The term ‘selfie’ has become ubiquitous in modern culture.


Single quotation marks are only used inside double quotation marks. Except for the replacement of double quotation marks, they adhere to the same rules as normal quotes. Usually, they display quotes inside quotes, such as when someone quotes someone else.


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