4

According to Grammarbook.com that claims to be "Your #1 Source for Grammar and Punctuation", its Rule #3 says:

Use single quotation marks for quotations within quotations.

Example: He said, "Dan cried, 'Do not treat me that way.' "

And its rule #5b warns:

Never use single quotation marks in sentences like the previous three.

Incorrect: I had a visit from my 'friend' the tax man.

But seeing an article on the BBC website with a headline that contains a single quotation which is not within quotations, I wonder which one of the sources is right since I doubt that a journalist from such a prestigious magazine could make a punctuation mistake.

  • 1
    It may depend on whether you spell color 'color' or 'colour'. Some style manuals may recommend using single quotation marks quotations in headlines (which, in my humble opinion, looks cleaner). See also: grammarphobia.com/blog/2014/06/scare-quotes.html, quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/…. – Damkerng T. Aug 14 '15 at 20:14
  • @DamkerngT., I understand that different style manuals may have different rules but never is a strong word. – Lucian Sava Aug 14 '15 at 20:28
  • 3
    @LucianSava Then you should take that up with the grammar site and ask them to explain why they say "never"... the reality is that actual use and "perfect use" are not the same thing and there's a lot of flexibility. If you see the word "never" you should probably consider downgrading it to "usually". – Catija Aug 14 '15 at 20:43
  • 8
    @LucianSava Note that your second source is the BBC. And note the disclaimer at the head of the page at your first source: 'The rules set forth in this section are customary in the United States. Great Britain and other countries in the Commonwealth of Nations are governed by quite different conventions.' Note, finally, that even this 'authoritative' source characterizes its 'rules' as 'customary' and as 'conventions'. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 14 '15 at 21:05
  • 1
    @StoneyB Very good point. Though, even American news sources use single quotes in article titles. As seen here and here – Catija Aug 14 '15 at 21:14
1

As you may discover if you browse through this site a while, there is no single authority on English grammar and punctuation in this world. So for issues like single versus double quotes, we have general guidelines, but ultimately it will come down to style – specifically, the style of whoever's writing, or whatever business they're writing for.

In the case of the BBC, their style guide says quotation marks should be single in headlines (long page with no anchors, so do a find, and you'll get to it a ways down).

BBC also includes promo text, quotes within quotes, and quote boxes as the other times when they use singular quotes.

That basically means that three of their four use cases for single quotes are based on layout things and not actual grammar. In the case of headlines, it's just to save space (and maybe ink, in the early days of printed newspapers).

The AP Stylebook, which is the journalistic authority in the United States, also says to use single quote marks in headlines, in addition to when using quotes within quotes. (Maybe someone with a current subscription to their stylebook can answer the question of if there are other edge cases where the AP prefers them.)


I personally would add that not many native speakers are likely to disagree with using single quotes within quotations, and a variety of style guides are likely to agree on the use of single quotes in headlines/titles. But beyond that, there's probably a good variety of rules floating around – the BBC wants to use single quotes in quote boxes (whatever that means, exactly), and that's great for them, but other newspapers or websites may not.

A final note is that you should probably ignore what you actually see being used in a stylebook itself and just go by what they say when trying to decide what to do. Style guides often break their own rules simply to help illustrate points better and avoid ambiguity. A quick look at the BBC style page I linked to above shows that they use single quotes all over the place, even as they say not to. And the AP Stylebook uses italics for example sentences, even though AP style is basically to never use italics.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.