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One Quotation Mark or Two?

It is usual British practice to enclose direct speech between single quotation marks. Look inside any novel published for the UK market and you will see that this is the style. Double quotation marks are then used for a quotation within a quotation:

‘Would you like a cup of rooibos?’ she asked.
‘Did you say “rooibos”? What is that?’ he replied.

However, in the US (and in UK newspapers) this is reversed: double quotation marks for direct speech, and single quotation marks within.

My preference is for single quotation marks. I think they look neater; I find them easier on the eye when editing. As a trained copy-typist, the  character is easier to find on the keyboard (stretch right-hand little finger one key to the right) than the character, which I invariably have to look for, and use the shift key – that’s effort! Also, each pair of single quotes (opening and closing) takes up less space on the page – equal to one character – meaning a reduction in paper used when printing out a 100,000-word novel for copy-editing. I also prefer to read books that use single quotation marks, otherwise it looks as if the page has broken out in pimples.

Before you navigate to the Replace function to change all your double quotations to single ones, consider this: how easy is it to check whether you have omitted any closing quotation marks after using direct speech? It’s easy to forget them when you are so wrapped up in typing; you’ve become a little excited as the drama in your story builds up, and the creative juices are flowing faster than your fingers can cope with…so, it’s quicker, and easier, to check through your work if you have used double quotation marks, and why is that? Well, it’s called the apostrophe. The apostrophe also looks like a single quotation mark:

‘Don’t you want a cup of rooibos? she asked.
‘You didn’t say “rooibos”, did you? I hate the stuff,’ he replied.

With the mix of quotation marks and apostrophes, using the Find function to check for missing ones, specifically for speech quotes, is arduous. There are five matches in that short piece, and the highlighted ones appear throughout, making the missing one at the end of the first line less noticeable.

Using double quotation marks (with ‘rooibos’ in single quotes), there are only three matches. The highlighted characters appear at the beginning and the end of the lines of speech, making the missing quotation marks easier to spot.

Alternatively, there’s always a macro. I’m not clever enough to write one, but a quick search on the Internet will find a macro that checks for missing quotation marks. Great, you might think, but they are mostly written by and for the US market, so they only check for double quotation marks, and not single ones. (Aargh!) It’s tricky, so I’ve handed this over to my husband – perhaps he can create one that checks for single speech quotes (ignoring apostrophes), and if he does, I’ll post it here.

Of course, you could always decide not to include any quotation marks with your direct speech: Don’t be scared: dialogue without quotation marks

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