Double Quotations vs. Single Quotations: What’s the Difference?

by Amy Verhaeghe

Published at 2016-07-06

Double quotations vs. single quotations --  figuring out how to properly use both of these types of punctuation can be confusing, especially depending on where the text originated from. TEC editor Amy has a primer that can help you figure out, once and for all, when to use double quotations and when to use single quotations.


“Double Quotations”


In Canada and the United States, double quotation marks are most commonly used to indicate that text has been reproduced from another source, whether that source is written or oral. For example:


In The Promise of Happiness, Sara Ahmed argues that “feelings get stuck to certain bodies in the very way we describe spaces, situations, dramas” (2010, 69).


In 1967, Pierre Trudeau proclaimed that “the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.”


Double quotation marks are also used around the titles of certain short works, such as articles, television shows, and chapter titles. The titles of the longer works, such as full issues of journals, television series, or book titles, within which these shorter works are contained, however, are italicized rather than enclosed by quotation marks. For example:


After watching “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I wished I could have my own magical powers.


Authors can also use double quotation marks to indicate sarcasm, irony, or disdain. For example:


Sherene Razack’s Dying from Improvement: Inquests and Inquiries into Indigenous Deaths in Custody (2015) reveals that Canada’s criminal “justice” system is anything but just.


‘Single Quotations’


Single quotation marks are primarily used to for a quotation within a quotation. For example:


According to Ahmed, “being happy requires a commitment to find what Firestone brilliantly describes as a ‘narrow difficult-to-find alley’ of human experience” (2010, 70).


Confusion Abounds!


These rules can get a bit confusing, however, because British publishers commonly use single quotation marks where Canadian and American publishers use double quotation marks. The British style used to be common in Canada as well, but as Canadian publishers begin to more closely follow American style guides, such as The Chicago Manual of Style and the MLA Handbook, the British style is being replaced by the American one in Canadian publications.


Lastly, you may have seen signs where quotation marks are used to emphasize a certain word in a sentence. Do not do this! If you want to emphasize a word in a sentence, use italics or bold instead. Using quotation marks in this way often makes the reader interpret the text as sarcastic, as in the photo to the right -- if I saw that sign, I dont think I would be trusting the veracity of the stores claims of fresh seafood.

For more funny signs misusing quotation marks, check out The Blog” of Unnecessary Quotation Marks.