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Punctuation—Quotation Marks and Apostrophes

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Quotation marks (") are often used to indicate something said or written by another person, particularly if it is included inside your own original writing. If the quotation is embedded inside one of your own sentences, use commas, as shown in the following.

  • After getting off the ladder, Neil Armstrong intended to say, “That’s one small step for a man,” but he actually said, “That’s one small step for man.”
  • The professor asked the history students a question. “Now, can someone tell me why, in 1975, we pulled our troops out of Vietnam?”

Quotation marks are also used for language used to describe something or someone, but which is not being used by most people. Some examples include nicknames, labels for things that people do not wish to talk about in detail, or new things that have not been named or identified yet:

  • Alex “Frequent Flier” Hernandez is on his tenth business trip of the year!
  • Do not tell anyone about our “project.”
  • The Phoenix Lander on Mars uncovered “white stuff” beneath the red soil.

As you can see in the examples above, when a comma or period comes at the end of a pair of quotation marks, it goes inside the marks, not outside. However, if you are using quotation marks for a special word or phrase (not quoting someone’s writing or speech), you can put question marks and exclamation marks outside the quotation:

  • What did he mean by “double-down”?

Apostrophes (') are used less frequently in American English writing. They are used with an s to indicate possession by one person or thing ('s) or two or more persons or things (s'):

  • Victor’s staff has been putting in too much overtime.
  • Teachers’ pay has been rising faster than salaries in other sectors of the economy.

They are also a necessary part of contractions, in which words are combined or shortened:

  • Don’t [do not] talk about the content of the take-home test with your classmates.