5.4 Quotation Marks, Italics, Underlining


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

  • not using underlining
  • quotation marks
  • placing quotes with other punctuation
  • italics

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, you can stop using underlining. The only thing underlined in a document these days is a link to a webpage or other online document. One exception is if you are writing a college assignment by hand; you can use underlining where you would normally use italics. But you really don’t need underlining for any other reason.

So all you 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 titles
  • to indicate another person’s words, whether written or spoken
  • to refer to a word being used as a word (For example, we put the word “cat” in quotes in this sentence: The word “cat” has three letters. This clarifies that we are referring to the word, not to the animal. 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 : poems, essays, articles, chapters, songs, stories, web pages, TV and radio episodes–anything 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 Rain 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 People

In college, you will write lots of research papers, using the ideas and sometimes the words of other people. Understanding the difference between direct and indirect quotations is important.

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.”

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; 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. 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 just the quoted parts. 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.”

We can identify the speaker 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, sometimes it is confusing to know the 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 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

Copy the following sentences into your notebook, adding quotation marks where necessary. Check the rules above as you work. If the sentence does not need any quotation marks, write “Correct.”

  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 to indicate the titles of small things that are part of something larger.

Use italics to indicate 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, DVDs, TV and radio series, as well as the names of ships and aircraft, and also for foreign words. For example:

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

Magazines and newspapers: The New York Times, Rolling Stone

Movies: Casablanca, Moonlight, Toy Story

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.

Exercise 2

In your notebook, draw a line dividing the page into two columns. Label the column on the left “Italics” and the one on the right “Quotes.” Put the following words in the correct column. (If you are unfamiliar with something, Google it. You can’t punctuate a word correctly if you don’t know what it 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
  • Death of the Moth by Virginia Woolf
  • OregonLive
  • Netflix
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Notice that whether you put a title in quotes or italics gives your reader information. Don’t mislead or confuse your readers if you can avoid doing so.


  • Use quotation marks to enclose direct quotes and titles of short works.
  • Use italics to enclose the titles of long works.
  • 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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