5.4 Quotation Marks, Italics, and Underlining


This section of Ch. 5 will cover the following topics:

  • using quotation marks
  • using italics
  • not using underlining

What do quotation marks, italics, and underlining look like?

  • Quotation marks look like little pairs of commas up in the air (“ ”).  They always come in a set: one before and one after whatever is being enclosed.  For example: “The Lottery” is a very scary story.
  • Italics is a typeface, not a symbol.  It is a design that tilts the tops of letters to the right and makes them look fancy, like this: italics.  (The name comes from the fact that the first typefaces designed to look like handwriting came from Italy.)
  • Underlining is obvious: underlining.

How do you use these marks?  First, stop using underlining.  The only thing underlined in a document these days is a link to something online.  (One exception: If you are writing by hand, you can use underlining on something you would normally italicize.)

So all you really need to know is how to use quotation marks and italics.

Quotation Marks

Quotation marks (“ ”) enclose words to set them off from the rest of the text.  Quotation marks are used three ways:

  • to identify certain types of titles
  • to indicate another person’s words, whether written or spoken
  • to refer to a word being used as a word  (For example: The word “cat” has three letters.  Putting “cat” in quotes clarifies that we are referring to the word, not the animal.  If we were just talking about the animal, we would not use quotes.  For example:  I had a cat named Maggie.  This use of quotation marks is rare.  Focus on the first two uses, which are much more common.)

Titles in Quotation Marks

Quotation marks are used to identify the titles of short works such as poems, essays, articles, chapters, songs, stories, web pages, TV and radio episodes–anything short enough that is part of something larger like a book, CD, program, or website.  For example:

“Looking for America” by Lana Del Rey (song)

“Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell (essay)

“A Real Durwan” by Jhumpa Lahiri (short story)

“Watering the Stones” by Mary Oliver (poem)

“The Rains of Castamere” (episode in a TV series)

“Blood Gold: The Fight for the Future of Brazil’s Rain Forest” (magazine article)

“Take Action” (page on Cascade AIDS Project’s website)

For the titles of longer works, see “Italics” below.

Quoting Speech

In college, you will write lots of research papers, using the ideas and the words of other people.  The first step is understanding the difference between direct and indirect quotations.

A direct quotation is when you write exactly what someone else said or wrote.  Their words are enclosed in quotation marks.  For example:

The wolf said, “Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down.”

According to Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”


Whether you quote research directly or indirectly, it must always be identified as research!

An indirect quotation is a restatement of what someone said or wrote but using your own words.  Do not use quotation marks for indirect quotations.  For example:

The wolf threatened to destroy the little pig’s house.

Gandhi often said we have to take action if we want the world to be better.

Capitalizing Quotes

Quotes are capitalized just like regular sentences.  The first word in a sentence is capitalized and the first word in a quote is capitalized.

Martie wrote an email saying, “Thank you for the card.  The design was lovely.”  (The words “Thank” and “The” are capitalized because they begin sentences.)

When identifying the speaker in the middle of a quote, the beginning of the second part of the quote does not need to be capitalized unless it is the beginning of a new sentence.  For example:

“Thank you for the card,” Martie wrote in her email. “The design was lovely.” (“The” is capitalized because it is the beginning of the new sentence.)

“Thank you for the card,” Martie wrote, adding, “with the lovely design.”  (The word “with” is not capitalized because the phrase “with the lovely design” is a continuation of the sentence that begins “Thank you for the card.”)

Placement of Quotation Marks

Quotation marks go at the beginning and the end of the quote.  This is true even if a quote goes on for two or more sentences.  Generally, no additional quotation marks are needed in between.  For example:

My sister said, “Your dog ran away again.  I found him, but he was wet and muddy.  The next time he runs away, get him yourself.”

However, if the quote is interrupted with explanatory words, the quotation marks go around the quoted words to separate them from the explanation.  For example:

My sister said, “Your dog ran away again.”  I could tell she was really angry.  “I found him, but he was wet and muddy,” she continued.  “The next time he runs away, get him yourself.”  Then she slammed the door.

A speaker can be identified at the beginning, middle, or end of a quote.  For example:

Madison said, “Let’s stop at the market to buy fresh vegetables for dinner.”

“Let’s stop at the market,” Madison said.  “We can buy fresh vegetables for dinner.”

“Let’s stop at the market to buy some fresh vegetables for dinner,” Madison said.

When quotation marks are used next to other punctuation, there is a correct order.

  • Quotation marks are always placed after commas and periods.  For example:

I love the Billie Eilish song “My Future,” which she sang at the Democratic convention.

  • If both the sentence and the quote are statements, put the period inside the end quotes.  For example:

In high school I read “The Lottery.”

  • If the sentence is a question or exclamation and the quote is a statement, put the question mark or exclamation point after the end quotes.  For example:

I finally memorized the poem “The Raven“!

  • But if the sentence is a statement and the quoted material is a question or exclamation, put the question mark or exclamation point inside the end quotes.  For example:

I asked the teacher, “Can you help me?”

Single quotation marks (‘ ’) are only used to indicate a quotation within another quotation.  For example:

Theresa said, “I wanted to take my dog to the music festival, but the man at the gate said, No dogs allowed, so I took Pepper home.”

Using quotation marks correctly requires practice.  Keep these rules nearby and check them when you want to use quotation marks.

Exercise 1

Type up the following sentences, adding quotation marks where necessary.  Check the rules above as you work.

  1. Yasmin said, Let’s go out to eat.
  2. Where should we go? asked Russell.
  3. Yasmin said it didn’t matter to her.
  4. I know, let’s go to the Two Roads Juice Bar. Did you know that the name is a reference to a poem? asked Russell.
  5. Yasmin was surprised and asked the poem’s title.
  6. The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, Russell explained.
  7. Oh! said Yasmin, Is that the one that starts with the line, Two roads diverged in a yellow wood?
  8. Russell nodded in agreement.


Use quotation marks for the titles of small things that are part of something larger.

Use italics for the titles of large things.

Never use both quotation marks and italics.  It’s always one or the other.


Use italics to identify titles of long works (books, plays, newspapers, magazines, albums and CDs, websites, movies and DVDs, TV and radio series), as well as the names of ships and aircraft, and foreign words.  For example:

Books and plays: To Kill a Mockingbird, Hamlet, The Hobbit

Magazines and newspapers:  The New York Times, Rolling Stone

Movies and DVDs:  Casablanca, Moonlight, Vivo

Websites:  Craig’s List, Common Sense Media, Khan Academy, TED

TV & radio series:  Stranger Things, SNL, Morning Edition

Albums and CDs:  Abbey Road by The Beatles, American Idiot by Green Day

Video games:  Super Mario 3D World, Minecraft

Ships and aircraft:  Enterprise, Spruce Goose

Foreign words:  The Italian word ciao is used when greeting people or saying goodbye.

Exercise 2

Type up the following list, putting the titles either in quotes or italics.  (If you are unfamiliar with something on the list, Google it. You can’t punctuate correctly if you don’t know what the thing is.)

  • Queen Mary 2
  • The Washington Post
  • BBC News
  • Breaking Bad
  • Pulp Fiction
  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • The New Yorker
  • The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
  • aloha
  • Bigger Love by John Legend
  • Wikipedia
  • Netflix
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Notice that whether you put a title in quotes or italics gives your reader information.


  • Use quotation marks to enclose direct quotes and the titles of short works.
  • Use italics for the titles of long works and foreign words.
  • Don’t use underlining for anything other than live links.
  • Never use both italics and quotes; it’s always one or the other.


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