The rules governing quotation marks can confuse even seasoned writers. Still, if you learn certain simple principles, punctuating quotes becomes easier. Of course, things become doubly confusing when you have a quote within a quote. We will show you how to punctuate a nested quote correctly.
Why Quote a Quotation?
There are many reasons you would need to place a quotation within a quotation. One common reason would be a character quoting someone in a story. For example:
“Before leaving the Philippines, Gen. MacArthur famously declared, ‘I shall return,’” the lecturer said.
The above construction uses American English quotation mark placement. The writer encloses the main quote in double quotation marks. The MacArthur quote nested in the main quote, I shall return, is surrounded by single quotation marks.
Please note, this rule is inverted in British English conventions. In British construction, you would enclose the main quote with a set of single quotation marks. You would employ double quotation marks for the nested quote within the main quote.
You do not separate single and double quotation marks with a space when they abut each other, whether that is at the beginning or the end of the quotation.
Related: Do punctuation marks go inside or outside of quotes?
How to Quote a Quotation
How would you directly cite a source with a quotation in it? The rules stated above remain the same. In American English, you would place double quotation marks around the main quote and single quotation marks around the inside quote. You would invert this for British English.
As an example, let’s imagine you are directly quoting a written source for an article, and the cited passage itself contains a direct quotation. Here is such a passage:
My uncle was fond of old Irish benedictions. When I left for university, he saw me off by saying, “May the path rise to meet, young man.” I found it absurd at the time, but now it seems rather poignant.
If you were to quote from this passage in an article, you would write:
At the beginning of his memoir, the author recalls his uncle. “My uncle was fond of old Irish benedictions. When I left for university, he saw me off by saying, ‘May the path rise to meet, young man.’ I found it absurd at the time, but now it seems rather poignant.”
Do you see what changed? In the original passage, the uncle’s benediction is enclosed with double quotation marks. However, when this passage is quoted, the benediction is surrounded by single quotation marks because it has become a nested quote within the main quote.