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How to Quote a Quote?

Updated on
December 23, 2020
Grammar
  • In American English, use double quotation marks for quotations and single quotation marks for quotations within quotations.
  • In British English, use single quotation marks for quotations and double quotation marks for quotations within quotations.

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The rules for using quotation marks can seem complicated, but once you understand the basic principles, it’s not so bad. But what do you do when you’ve got a quote within a quote? Read on to find out.

Quotations within quotations

Why would you ever have a quotation within a quotation? Lots of reasons. For example, a character in a story may quote someone else aloud.

“Let us explore the meaning of the quote ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’”said the teacher.

The example above uses American-style quotation marks. The main quote is enclosed in double quotation marks. The quote within the quote, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, is enclosed in single quotation marks. (The British convention is the opposite; the main quote would use single quotation marks and the quote within the quote would use double quotation marks.) If your single and double quotation marks end up next to each other (either at the beginning or end of the quote), you don’t need to add a space between them.

Quoting a quote

How do you quote a quote? That is to say, what do you do when you’re quoting material that already contains a quote? The principle doesn’t change. In American English, use double quotes for the outside quote and single quotes for the inside quote. In British English, do the opposite.

Let’s say you need to quote a book for an essay, and the passage you have in mind contains a quote from some other source.

Imagine the original passage from the book looks like this:

I remember our father having strong opinions about many things. Pop was fond of saying “there’s no such thing as a free lunch, Jimmy,” but it seemed a little disingenuous because he wasn’t much of a lunch-eater anyway.

When you quote from this passage, you might say:

In the introduction of the book, the author describes a memory of his father. “Pop was fond of saying ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch, Jimmy,’ but it seemed a little disingenuous because he wasn’t much of a lunch-eater anyway.”

Notice that the quotes around there’s no such thing as a free lunch, Jimmy were double quotes in the original passage. But when you quote the passage, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, Jimmy becomes a quote within a quote, so you should change them to single quotation marks.

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