How to Quote a Quote?

  • 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.

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.

Quotes Inside Quotations

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.

Weekly Grammar Tips
Weekly Grammar Tips
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Comments
  • miheer vaidya

    Well obvious question what is rule for quote within a quote within a quote?

    • Tomasz Kowalczyk

      I assume that you alternate single- and double-quotes with regard to the flavor of English. 🙂

  • Michael Rath

    How about using a quote to emphasize a word that is used in jest or as part of a sarcastic statement?

  • Roni

    What about Canadian English? We always seem to be a combination of American and British English. It’s so confusing and frustrating!

    • Roni, your suggestion is commendable, however, your frustration is also found in other languages, such as French, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian, spoken outside their countries of origin.

    • John Galt

      I’ve never found it confusing. To a first approximation, Canadians spell (and write) English but pronounce American. (As opposed to Australians, who spell American and pronounce sort-of English.)

  • John Galt

    I would at least mention that if your quotations need to be nested more than two deep, you simply alternate the two marks.

  • John Galt

    One practice this article ought to at least mention, but doesn’t, is the old fashioned practice that when a quotation spans multiple paragraphs, each paragraph that is not the first begins with a new open-quote (or in the case of nested quotes, one for each quotation that is open at that point). I find this practice confusing and prefer not to follow it. Am I alone?

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