The main use of quotation marks is to set off the exact words of a speaker or written source from the main body of a text. The quotation may consist of one or more complete sentences or paragraphs, parts of a sentence or paragraph or as little as one word. As an alternative to the use of quotation marks in the run-in format (quotations integrated into the text), direct quotations may be indicated by means of indentation and/or reduced leading (space between lines) or font size, called the block format. Whichever format is adopted, the quoted matter should normally be faithfully reproduced in every detail: the spelling, punctuation and other characteristics of the original may not be changed without good reason (see 8.10 Insertions, alterations and parentheses for information on insertions in and alterations to quoted matter).
Bear in mind, too, that the excessive use of quotations can mar the appearance of a page and make it difficult for the reader to follow the ideas being presented; it is often better to paraphrase, use indirect speech or give a summary of the ideas concerned in your own words—in each instance accompanied by a footnote providing the source of information. Quotations are justified if the intention is to demonstrate a particular characteristic, style or wording, or to compare quotations; if the material is striking, memorable or well known; or if the quotation itself is an example or proof of what is being discussed, as in the case of legal evidence.
In this chapter, we shall follow the predominant Canadian practice of placing the period or comma within closing quotation marks and using double rather than single quotation marks (except for quotations within quotations, as illustrated in 8.08 Quotations within quotations).
Use the run-in format when the quoted matter is not more than fifty words or five lines long (longer quotations should be set in block format):
The quotation remains within the body of the paragraph.
Because the run-in format does not require indentation, the writer enjoys some latitude in positioning the clause or phrase that introduces the quotation, also called the annunciatory element.
Note that when a quotation is interrupted by other matter, the quotation marks are repeated before and after each part of the quotation:
If you decide to insert the annunciatory clause between two items that were separate sentences in the original or have become separate sentences in the quotation, capitalize the first word of the second sentence, i.e. of the second part of the quotation:
Note that in the second example the annunciatory clause ends with a period and not a comma.
When a quotation within a sentence is preceded by that, do not capitalize the first word (unless it is a proper noun or adjective):
(a) Place commas and periods within closing quotation marks, whether or not they were included in the original material:
Literature’s world is a concrete human world of immediate experience. The poet uses images and objects and sensations much more than he uses abstract ideas; the novelist is concerned with telling stories, not with working out arguments.
"Literature’s world is a concrete human world of immediate experience," according to Northrop Frye. "The poet uses images and objects and sensations much more than he uses abstract ideas; the novelist is concerned with telling stories, not with working out arguments."
(b) However, when a very high degree of accuracy is required (as in a legal context), it may be desirable to place any punctuation not part of the original document outside the quotation marks:
(c) Place a closing dash, question mark or exclamation mark inside the closing quotation marks if it applies to the quoted material and outside if it applies to the entire sentence:
(d) Note that when a statement or question ends with a quotation that is itself a question or exclamation, no period, exclamation mark or question mark is required after the closing quotation marks:
(e) A closing semicolon or colon should normally be dropped and replaced with a period, a comma or ellipsis points.
(f) When introducing a quotation with the word that, do not use a comma or a colon. Quotations that follow annunciatory clauses ending in that also require grammatical changes—from first-person to third-person pronouns, possessive adjectives and verbs. Neither the third-person pronoun nor that is ever enclosed in quotation marks or square brackets:
I want to consider one sort of semantic change, the kind of generalization that has affected literally and hundreds of other words. It has been occurring for a long time, often draining meaning until no echo of the word’s roots remains, and I suspect that it is occurring more rapidly in this age of electronic communication. I want to consider it from a particular point of view—as a usage problem, but also as an aspect of what Edward Sapir, more than seventy years ago, described as "drift."
—Robert Gorrell, "Language Change, Usage and Drift," English Today
Gorrell discusses one sort of semantic change, the kind of generalization that has affected literally and hundreds of other words. This semantic change has been occurring for a long time, he believes, and he suspects that "it is occurring more rapidly in this age of electronic communication." In this work, he "[considers] it from a particular point of view—as a usage problem, but also as an aspect of . . . ‘drift.’"
Note that if several changes of this kind need to be made within the same quotation, the material should be presented entirely in indirect speech (see 8.04 Indirect (reported) speech). For information on how to use ellipsis points to indicate omissions from quoted passages, see 8.09 Omissions.
(g) In-text notes, that is, author and page number references following a run-in quotation and enclosed in parentheses, should be placed between the closing quotation marks and the required final punctuation:
For further information on in-text notes, see 9.25 In-text notes.
(h) When quoting poetry in running text, use a slash (/) to indicate the end of a line:
Another way of reproducing someone else’s words without repeating them exactly is through indirect or reported speech. By adding a reporting verb (said, stated, exclaimed, declared, etc.) and shifting tenses as required, you can integrate the original speaker’s statement grammatically into the new sentence. Adverbs and adjectives expressing nearness in place or time (here, this, now, next, etc.) become the corresponding adverbs or adjectives of remoteness (there, that, then, the following, etc.) in indirect speech. Examples are given at the end of this section following the heading Direct speech / Indirect speech.
In indirect speech, the first example in 8.02 Run-in format would be restructured to read as follows:
The verb in the subordinate clause shifts from the present tense of direct speech (are) to the past tense (were) in keeping with the rules of tense sequence. Likewise, a verb that was in the future tense in direct speech often takes the conditional form in indirect speech. Thus if the Minister’s words had been
the indirect form would be
However, the present and future tenses are retained and demonstratives are not modified if the actions or situations referred to are still current or future at the time of quotation:
"There will be no growth this year."
The Minister said that there will be no growth this year.
The Minister said that there would be no growth in that year.
Alternatively, a blend of direct and indirect speech may be preferred when a particular part of the original statement is to be highlighted:
Because the first subordinate clause verb (were) is in the past tense, the tense of the verb within the quotation must be altered. This time, because direct speech is being retained and the speaker did not actually use the past tense, the editorial change has to be indicated by means of square brackets (see also 8.10 Insertions, alterations and parentheses on altering quotations).
The table below shows the corresponding tense and other changes when direct speech is converted to indirect speech:
|Direct speech||Indirect speech|
|Simple present |
"I hate this film," she said.
|Simple past |
She said that she hated that film.
|Present progressive |
"I’m watching the fireworks," he said.
|Past progressive |
He said that he was watching the fireworks.
|Present perfect |
"I’ve found a new job," she said
|Past perfect |
She said that she had found a new job.
|Present perfect progressive |
He said, "I’ve been running around all day."
|Past perfect progressive |
He said that he had been running around all day.
|Simple past |
"I saw Maria in Saskatoon last Saturday," he said.
|Past perfect |
He said that he had seen Maria in Saskatoon the previous Saturday.
She said, "I’ll be in Nova Scotia by Friday."
She said that she would be in Nova Scotia by Friday.
|Future progressive |
"I’ll be needing the car on the fifteenth," Paul said.
|Conditional progressive |
Paul said that he would be needing the car on the fifteenth.
"I would really like to go," he said.
|Conditional (no tense change) |
He said that he would really like to go.
If you are using the run-in format to quote two or more consecutive paragraphs from the same source, place quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph and at the end of the last:
Similarly, material quoted from a letter should carry quotation marks before the first line (usually the salutation) and after the last line (usually the signature), as well as at the beginning of each new paragraph. However, block quotations would be more appropriate in such cases.
A block quotation set off from the text is not enclosed in quotation marks. However, it requires indentation, single spacing, and double spacing above and below the passage to set it off. Smaller font size is an alternative to single spacing or indentation. Use a colon at the end of introductory phrases:
Endangered languages, like endangered species, might be infinitely valuable, but funding and linguistic expertise are finite. They could resort to triage, ignoring both the healthiest languages and the lost causes to concentrate the money where it will make the most difference. Saving a language, however, is more unpredictable than saving a battlefield casualty. A single committed speaker can resuscitate a language, whereas a million suppressed or indifferent speakers can let their language die in a generation.1
Note that in this case the source is mentioned at the beginning of the passage and further information is given in footnotes or endnotes. Place any in-text reference notes (see 9.25 In-text notes) at the end of the block, immediately after the period.
If the block quotation begins with a complete sentence—whether or not this was the first sentence of the paragraph in the source document—the first line may be indented further in order to match the format of subsequent paragraphs in the quotation:
There have been major initiatives in public administration in the last fifteen years: the emergence of value-for-money auditing, the creation of the Office of the Comptroller General, Part III of the Estimates, the emphasis on internal audit, the advent of program evaluation, and emphasis on the three E’s of economy, efficiency and effectiveness. Many of these had their origins in the government itself.
Yet, despite these many initiatives, Canada’s finances are not in any better shape. Changes in process have not solved the fundamental problem of balancing expenditures with revenues. As early as 1976, the Auditor General was "deeply concerned that Parliament, and indeed the government," had lost, or was "close to losing, effective control of the public purse."
Material that was already a quotation in the source document or speech should be enclosed in single quotation marks when run into text and in double quotation marks within block quotations. The same rules of punctuation apply (see 8.03 Punctuation and grammar in run-in quotations):
In his article "The Grand Illusion," Robert Fulford states: "Television news responds to one of our most profound needs: it reduces the chaos of the day to something approaching order. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz has explained that human beings are ‘symbolizing, conceptualizing, meaning-seeking’ animals who wish to ‘make sense out of their experience, to give it form and order.’"
In his article "The Grand Illusion," Robert Fulford writes as follows:
Television news responds to one of our most profound needs: it reduces the chaos of the day to something approaching order. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz has explained that human beings are "symbolizing, conceptualizing, meaning-seeking" animals who wish to "make sense out of their experience, to give it form and order."
In the rare event that a further quotation within a quotation occurs, enclose it in double quotation marks:
Omissions of material from a quoted passage, whether run-in or block, should be indicated by ellipsis points (three spaced dots) positioned on the line and separated by one space from the preceding text or from any punctuation marks that follow it.
There is an alternative format. It requires no spaces between the ellipsis points; however, a space is used before and after the set of three points (economic … developments).
The use of ellipsis points can vary, depending on whether they indicate an omission in the middle of a sentence, at the beginning or at the end.
(a) In the middle of a sentence
Use other punctuation marks together with ellipsis points only if they are essential for clarity:
Interviews, often disparaged for their judgmental subjectivity,
have been more successful than alternative selection methods.
According to Optimum, "Interviews . . . have been more successful
than alternative selection methods."
Note that the comma after Interviews has been dropped2 and that the word itself begins with a capital I because the quotation, even with the omission, is still a complete sentence.
(b) At the beginning of a sentence
To represent omission of the beginning of a sentence, use three dots followed by a space. If, in a quoted passage, one or more preceding sentences have been left out, use four dots—a period immediately following the preceding word and then three spaced dots:
The Canadian committee system is much less effective than it could be because of the high rate of substitutions and turnover permitted. Much of the problem with the Canadian committee system is that membership turnover is so high that few committees ever develop the continuity, expertise and mutual trust that make a committee effective. A change of attitudes and habits is required and we suggest a new parliamentary convention that committee membership be stable.
—Royal Commission on Financial Management and Accountability, Final Report
The Canadian committee system is much less effective than it could be because of the high rate of substitutions and turnover permitted. . . . We suggest a new parliamentary convention that committee membership be stable.
The four dots in this case represent omission of a whole sentence and the beginning of the next. Note that the first letter after the ellipsis is capitalized, even though it does not begin a new sentence in the original. In legal writing, indicate any such change by enclosing the capitalized letter in square brackets.
(c) At the end of a sentence
To represent omission of the last part of a quoted sentence, use four dots, but this time the ellipsis points come first, followed by a period to indicate the end of the sentence:
The Canadian committee system is much less effective than it could be because of the high rate of substitutions and turnover permitted. Much of the problem with the Canadian committee system is that membership turnover is so high that few committees ever develop the continuity, expertise and mutual trust that make a committee effective. A change of attitudes and habits is required . . . .
Ellipsis points can also indicate that a sentence has been interrupted or deliberately left incomplete:
(d) If one or more paragraphs have been omitted, use four dots, that is, three spaced dots immediately following the period at the end of the preceding paragraph. If the next paragraph in the quotation begins with a sentence that does not open a paragraph in the original, it should be preceded by three ellipsis points after the usual indentation.
(e) A complete line of dots, equal to the length of a line of poetry, is used to indicate the omission of one or more lines of poetry quoted in block format. The same rules of omission as for prose apply to poetry quoted in run-in format.
In the poem "Bushed," Earle Birney says:
While every quotation must be scrupulously exact, you may wish to provide the reader with information to clarify items in the quotation. For example, you may feel it advisable to indicate to whom the possessive adjective refers in the following:
The clarification is made by means of square brackets:
If you need to indicate an error in the original, such as a misspelling, insert the Latin word sic, italicized and enclosed in brackets, immediately after the word concerned. The addition of [sic] assures the reader of the accuracy of the quotation.
When used in this way, [sic] should not be followed by a period or an exclamation mark. Avoid implicit comments on peculiarities of form or content by means of an exclamation mark or question mark enclosed in parentheses.
If you wish to draw attention to specific parts of a quotation, underline or italicize them. The reader must be informed in a footnote, or in parentheses or brackets immediately following the quotation, by means of a phrase such as Italics mine, Underlining mine or My emphasis, that the emphasis was not in the original.
When referring to a word’s form rather than its meaning, use quotation marks to draw the reader’s attention. Usually these words are preceded by terms such as means, marked, specified, as, referred to as, the word, the phrase, entitled and designated. Most writers prefer to place words referred to as such in italics or to underline them rather than to use quotation marks, but consistency in form is the golden rule (see 6.08 Letters and words referred to as such). Words being defined, French terms and foreign words are set in italics, and their definition or translation is placed in quotation marks:
See 6.03 French and foreign words and phrases for information on the use of italics with French or foreign words and phrases.
(a) Slang and colloquial terms are often peculiar to one region and should be enclosed in quotation marks if they are foreign to the normal vocabulary of the intended readers:
Vernacular terms used for effect in administrative documents and reports are treated in the same way.
However, the enclosure of supposed slang or colloquial words in quotation marks is often unnecessary. First, ascertain whether the term is now part of the standard language. If it is, quotation marks are not required. If the term is still a slang term, determine whether using it, rather than a synonym that is standard, is warranted—for rhetorical effect or in order to demonstrate a person’s or group’s speech or style, for example.
(b) Technical terms may be enclosed in quotation marks in non-technical writing:
This practice is often unnecessary, however, in an era when the educated lay reader has some knowledge of modern science and engineering. Depending on the target readership, technical terms may not need special treatment.
(c) Quotation marks can also enclose words used ironically:
Here again, it is often possible to avoid quotation marks by using the preceding text to prepare the reader for the irony.
(d) Words used in a special sense or juxtaposed to terms with which they are not usually associated require quotation marks:
Quotation marks should enclose the titles of the following when those titles are presented within the body of the text, in footnotes and in bibliographies:
See 6.05 Titles of publications and works of art for titles of works that are italicized.
When including a quotation (as opposed to individual words or phrases) from French or foreign-language documents in your text, do not use italics. The material can be quoted as it stands, without a translation, as long as the Roman alphabet is used, the intended reader has sufficient knowledge of the source language and the context is explicit enough for the quotation to be understood. If you do provide a translation, however, you must enclose it in quotation marks. There are several ways to proceed.
Once the decision to give a translation has been made, it is preferable to quote from a translation that has already been published or gained credibility in some other way (in a thesis, for example) rather than to provide one of your own.
Place the translation of a short quotation or title (itself enclosed in quotation marks or italicized if it is the title of a published work) in square brackets immediately after the original, as in the examples below:
For a long quotation, give a translation in a footnote on the same page.
Whether you are presenting both the original and the translated quotation, a quotation from a published translation, or your own translation, do not forget to identify the translation in a footnote or immediately before or after the quotation, as illustrated below:
The considerable growth in governments’ powers has won
general acceptance because it is seen as the best way of
providing the services needed by the community.
The considerable growth in governments’ powers has won
general acceptance because it is seen as the best way of
providing the services needed by the community.
In all cases, the source of the original must be referred to in a footnote.
An alternative to a source-language or translated quotation is an English paraphrase of the passage concerned, presented within the body of the paragraph and introduced by a phrase or clause such as According to X or X notes that. This approach is appropriate if emphasis is to be placed solely on the ideas contained in the source material, not on any special characteristics that can be communicated only through direct quotation.
Whether the passage finally presented is a paraphrase, a quotation from a published translation, or your own translation, take great care to ensure that the content of the original has been rendered accurately. Even translations from prestigious publishing houses often contain serious translation errors.
Quotation marks should not enclose titles at the beginning of papers or articles, chapter headings, epigraphs, well-known literary expressions, the words yes or no (except in direct speech), proverbs or well-known sayings, matter following so-called, or mathematical or scientific symbols.
© Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2015
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