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What is the Difference between ‘Single’ and “Double” Quotation Marks?

Posted by Capstone Editing on 30 April 2017

What is the Difference between ‘Single’ and “Double” Quotation Marks?

British/Australian English Uses ‘Single’ Quotation Marks

In British/Australian English, we use these single quotation marks when quoting or indicating speech: ‘   ’.

It is American English that uses these double quotation marks: “   ”.

American Conventions Entering Australian English

American English has permeated British/Australian English to such an extent that many people writing and publishing in the UK, Australia and New Zealand incorrectly use double quotation marks when they should be using single. It is even taught in schools!

But the Snooks & Co. Style Manual for Authors Editors and Printers, the style manual adopted by the Australian government and universities, and the Macquarie Dictionary (Australia’s most up to date dictionary) both clearly state that Australian English must always make use of the single quotation marks for speech and quoting.

Quoting within a Quotation

The only time we make use of double quotation marks in British/Australian English is for quoting within a quotation. In a research essay, it might look like this:

Lines (2017) argued that ‘having an equal representation of women and men in academia contributes to structural diversity, considered beneficial “because differences among group members enhance collaboration, generation of ideas, knowledge and skills which can improve problem solving and work outcomes (Diezmann and Grieshaber 2010, 223)” ’.

Using Both Together

In the example above, the quotation within the quotation came at the end. This means that there were double quotation marks to close off that quotation within the quotation, and then a single quotation mark to close off the original quotation. This looks like this: ”’

But that can look a little unclear, since it just looks like three together. One way to improve this situation, often used in publishing, is to use what is called a ‘thin space’ between the double and single quotation marks.

In Word, you can do this by simply inserting a regular space and then highlighting it and making it superscript (by selecting the superscript option in the Font menu on the Home tab). This makes the space smaller.

Stay tuned for more articles about the differences between British/Australian and American English!

Capstone Editing

1 Comment on this article
  • Charlotte 5th May, 10:30pm

    I would argue that British/Australian vs American usage is not as clear-cut as this. The Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers says (p. 112): 'The question of whether to use single or double quotation marks is often debated. In Australia and the United Kingdom both types are widely used; in North America double quotes are the norm.' It then goes on to say that single quotation marks are 'recommended' for Australian government publications. So it definitely doesn't say that they 'must' be used. The main problem I observe with students' usage is that they mix the two. They often seem to use double for direct quotes from the literature and single for ironic or 'slang' usage. The important point is to be consistent in usage and stick to one type for everything (with the opposite type used for quotes within quotes). If the student is required to follow APA style they should be using double.

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