You May Quote Me On That: Quotation Marks And Italics
Punctuation problems are often a prime indicator of poor writing.
Poor punctuation is a
distraction that can single-handedly derail an author’s message and credibility.
Punctuation marks not only indicate how a writer wants words grouped together
for meaning and emphasis, but they also serve as visual guides that can tell the
reader immediately who said something or what type of subject is being
discussed. Consider a simple direct quotation (a citation or an excerpt):
“We are fine,” said Robert,
“and they are fine as well.”
Notice that the quotation marks enclose both the comma and the period. In British punctuation, the comma and the period would follow the quotation mark.
Look at this sentence:
Robert asked, “How are you?”
The final period is omitted, because end punctuation is never doubled. The question mark is inside the quotation marks, because it is part of the quotation. Question marks, colons, and semi-colons that are not part of a quotation are always placed outside the quotation marks.
a quiz! A comma needs to be placed after “Billy” in the following sentence.
Should it go inside the quotation marks or outside the quotation marks?
“Billy” Mr. Roberts said “will
Since the comma is not part of the quotation, you would think it should go outside the quotation marks, which is the convention in British English. But in American English, the comma goes inside the quotation marks:
“Billy,” Mr. Roberts said,
“will go first.”
When we wish to write about a particular word, should we use italics or quotes—that is, should it be “widget” or widget? The answer is either form is correct, but be consistent.
Quotation marks may be applied
to words being used in a special sense—for example, Robert is a “priest” of
grammar. (Of course, the Grammar Goddess would prefer the term “so-called
priest”!) In this particular case, words used as words may also be italicized.
In dialog, it’s customary to indent each new speaker’s sentences. This is for clarity only. In short conversations, omit the indenting.
And let’s not forget single
quotation marks, which are used primarily to enclose a quotation within a
did you yell ‘fire’?” he asked.
Complete literary works
published individually require italics. This applies to book titles, Web sites,
films, journals, magazines, newspapers, and plays. Nearly every other short
literary work takes quotation marks: newspaper and magazine articles, short
stories, book chapters, poems, song titles, television shows, and radio shows.
Don’t forget to italicize the names of spacecraft, aircraft, ships, and trains.
Foreign phrases should be
italicized. Caesar’s famous veni, vidi, vici means “I came, I saw, I
conquered.” Yet most Latin abbreviations in common use are not italicized: etc.,
e.g., i.e., vis., et al., and vs. There is no need to italicize or use quotation
marks for foreign words that have become part of the English language: