Grammar Quotations Within Quotations |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Quotations Within Quotations

Almost all of us have found ourselves confused with double and single quotation marks. When do we use single quotation marks? Where does the punctuation go with single quotation marks? With just a few rules and examples, you will feel surer about your decisions.

Rule: Use single quotation marks inside double quotation marks when you have a quotation within a quotation.

Example: Bobbi told me, “Delia said, ‘This will never work.’ ”

Notice that what Delia said was enclosed in single quotation marks. Notice also that the period was placed inside both the single and the double quotation marks. The American rule is that periods always go inside all quotation marks.

As a courtesy, make sure there is visible space at the start or end of a quotation between adjacent single and double quotation marks.

Example: Bobbi said, “I read an interesting article titled, ‘A Poor Woman’s Journey.’ ”

Question marks and exclamation points, unlike periods, follow logic with their placement. If a quote inside a quote is a question or exclamation, place the question mark or exclamation point inside the single quotation marks.

Examples: Bobbi said, “Delia asked, ‘Will this remote control work on my TV?’ ”
Bobbi said, “Delia shouted, ‘Get your hands off me!’ ”

Rule: If the question is inside the double quotation marks, place the question mark between the single and double quotation marks.

Example: Bobbi asked, “Did Delia say, ‘This will never work’?”

(Because you will rarely need an exclamation point within the double quotation marks and not within the single quotation marks, there is little sense discussing this.)

Rule: In the above three examples, only one ending punctuation mark was used with the quotation marks. The rule is that the “stronger” mark wins. Question marks and exclamation points are considered stronger than the period. Period!

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4 Comments on Quotations Within Quotations

4 responses to “Quotations Within Quotations”

  1. Dianne M. says:

    If I am writing a book in which I am the character, then I am quoting the Bible that also has a quote, how is this punctuated?

    • That sounds like a quotation within a quotation, which would follow the guidance given in this post. However, we would need to see what you’re talking about in context to know for sure.

  2. Virginia Miller says:

    The space between the end single quote and double quote marks is very nice. Was it intentional or simply due to choice of font?

    • The space is intentional. As the post states, “As a courtesy, make sure there is visible space at the start or end of a quotation between adjacent single and double quotation marks.”

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