Quotation marks (also called quote marks, speech marks or inverted commas) are used to mark text representing dialogue or quoted material.
They can also be used for ‘scare quotes’ (see what I did there?) and are used to show that a term is sarcastic, slang, a term that would not normally be used in that style of writing, or to isolate the term for attention.
Should I use double or single quotation marks in New Zealand English?
We often see double quotation marks. Newspapers usually use them, and we were taught at school to use them.
Now you are writing a business proposal, novel or university paper, and you remember that you have seen single quotation marks in the latest book or article you were reading. Have the rules changed? Which way is correct? Is there a correct way?
American English traditionally uses double quotation marks for dialogue, quoted words and phrases, and scare quotes (except in some technical areas) and single quotation marks for quotes within a quote, whereas British English does the reverse and uses mainly single quotation marks with doubles for quotes within a quote.
So, where does that leave us in New Zealand English?
Again, that depends.
First, you need to check whether your company, publisher or tertiary institution has a style guide. If the guide specifies single or double quotation marks, you have your answer.
Some styles, such as the Harvard style, specify using single quotation marks when citing from books or articles, etc., but double quotation marks when quoting direct speech. On the other hand, if you are writing in APA style, make sure you use double quotation marks throughout. The style guide used by the New Zealand parliament specifies using single quotation marks, but newspapers tend to follow the American English style of double quotation marks. Educational and children’s books usually use double quotation marks as it makes them more visible to a young reader.
If you are not bound to a style guide, Fit to Print: The Writing and Editing Style Guide for New Zealand allows you the choice for aesthetic preference. Double quotation marks are becoming less popular in New Zealand English writing, as single quotation marks give a cleaner look on the page (for this reason websites often use them), but singles can also be missed easily when scanning the page. Check with your publisher or editor if you are unsure.
Finally, if you are writing for an international audience, check which style your target audience prefers (British, American, Canadian or Australian) and follow those rules.
How to use quotation marks
Dialogue is the most common place we would find quotation marks.
Or when quoting material from a book or article.
When quotation marks are used to mark words that are inconsistent with normal usage, stay consistent to the style. For example, if you used single quotation marks for direct speech, then also use single quotation marks for scare quotes, and vice versa.
For quotes within a quote: If you use single quotation marks, then use double quotation marks for quotes within the quote, and vice versa.
How not to use quotation marks
We often see quotation marks used for emphasis on shop signs and windows.
Please do not do this.
If you need to emphasise a word, use italics, bold or underline.
Most importantly, whichever style you choose, be consistent.
New Zealand English: Punctuation Inside or Outside Quotation Marks
Hughes, J., & Wallace, D. (2010). Fit to Print : The Writing & Editing Style Guide for Aotearoa New Zealand. Wellington, New Zealand: Dunmore Publishing.
The Chicago Manual of Style
Oxford University Press, (2016). New Oxford Style Manual (3rd ed.). United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
Marja Stack is a proofreader and copy-editor based in New Zealand. Her business, Clearlingo Proofreading and Editing, caters to all writers, whether business, fiction or non-fiction. For more information or enquiries please see her website: www.clearlingo.co.nz.
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