Do you follow American-English writing standards? If so, today’s post is for you because it explains two instances when you should use single quotation marks followed by two instances when you may want to use them.
Please note that single quotation marks are used more frequently in British English and, therefore, have more applications than the four instances shown here.
Two Instances When You Should Use Single Quotation Marks
With few exceptions, use single quotation marks for (1) quotations within quotations and (2) titles within titles in quotation marks.
1. Quotations within Quotations
Use single quotation marks for quotations within run-in quotations, which are short quotes integrated into the surrounding text.1
John said, “I started running south until I heard Max scream, ‘The zombies are over there!’”
Max replied, “I’m glad you heard me. Did Sam just yell ‘More zombies are coming’?”
“I think he did,” said John, “and Jack is hollering ‘Zombies over here,’ too.”
In the second example above, the question mark appears between the final single quotation mark and double quotation marks because Max asked the question, not Sam.2
However, use double quotation marks for quotations within block quotations, which are longer, standalone quotes that are normally indented from the surrounding text.3
2. Titles within Titles in Quotation Marks
In sentences and citations, titles within titles should be in single quotation marks if the following parameters are both true:
A. The original title should be in quotation marks.
B. The embedded title should be in quotation marks if written by itself.4
The students read the article “Thoughts on ‘Thoughts in the Car’” before completing their assignments.
Susanna was delighted that her article “An analysis of Guy Clark’s ‘Desperados Waiting for a Train’” was accepted for publication.
Each style guide has its own recommendations for formatting titles in sentences and citations, so consult your own guide, if applicable.
Two Instances When You May Want to Use Single Quotation Marks
Depending on your style guide or writing field, you may want to use single quotation marks (1) in news headlines and (2) around translations of quotations.
1. Quotations in News Headlines
The Associated Press Stylebook (AP style) recommends using single quotation marks for quotations in news headlines.5
AP is the primary style for journalism in the United States and abroad. Therefore, consider following this recommendation if you want to adhere to traditional journalism styles and don’t already follow a style guide adopted by a specific news outlet.
Sasquatch researcher claims an ‘unimaginable discovery’
Eighth grader’s insistence that ‘dog ate my homework’ was true
2. Quotation Translations
The Modern Language Association’s MLA Handbook offers the option to place translations of quotations in single quotation marks directly after the original quotation.6
The MLA Handbook is widely used by humanities departments in colleges and universities around the United States. If you follow MLA style for school or research (or if you want to align your style with humanities studies), you may want to consider using this option—as long as you do so consistently throughout your document.
The crowd chanted in Latin, “Dum vivimus, vivamus!” ‘While we live, let us live!’
The girl whispered “amor vincit omnia” ‘love conquers all.’
Visit “How to Insert Special Characters in Microsoft Word” for a step-by-step tutorial on inserting all of Word’s twenty-seven special characters, including single quotation marks.
1. The Associated Press Stylebook 2020–2022 (New York: Associated Press, 2020), 344–45; The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 13.30; MLA Handbook, 8th ed. (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2016), 1.3.7; Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th ed. (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2020), 8.33.
2. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 13.30.
3. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 13.31.
4. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 14.94; MLA Handbook, 8th ed. (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2016), 1.2.4.
5. The Associated Press Stylebook 2020–2022 (New York: Associated Press, 2020), 138.
6. MLA Handbook, 8th ed. (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2016), 1.3.8.