2

John: "What was Liam yelling about on the oval today?

I replied: """I think therefore I am", is the only quote I can remember,"said Liam as he ran around the oval. Or at least that is what I thought he was yelling."

Is this usage of inverted commas at the start of the second sentence appropriate? This probably looks awkward but would it be considered as proper punctuation? If not, can someone suggest an alternative way of stating the sentence without changing the meaning.

  • As a supplement to the good answers below; the Online Writing Lab at Purdue has some good short notes on various topics, quote formating being one: owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/577/02 – Phil Sep 4 '15 at 16:16
  • Have you ever seen such a punctuation as in your sentence in a book? – rogermue Sep 4 '15 at 16:36
  • And by "double inverted comma", you mean "Quotation mark" ? – JPhi1618 Sep 4 '15 at 17:57
4

Technically you are correct, but typically we would attempt to do two things

  1. Use single quotes for the "inner" quote

"'I think, therefore I am' is the only quote I can remember" said Liam, as he ran around the oval. Or at least, that is what I thought he was yelling.

  1. Move the "inner" quote further into the outer "quote", such that the two sets of quote marks aren't together

"Well, 'I think, therefore I am' is the only quote I can remember" said Liam, as he ran around the oval. Or at least, that is what I thought he was yelling.

We can always do #1, but #2 may depend on whether we have control over the quote: if directly quoting, it is not usually possible to change the order for clarity

We may also, if possible, italicize the internal quote, either in addition to:

"'I think, therefore I am' is the only quote I can remember" said Liam, as he ran around the oval. Or at least, that is what I thought he was yelling.

Or instead of, the inner quotes:

"I think, therefore I am, is the only quote I can remember" said Liam, as he ran around the oval. Or at least, that is what I thought he was yelling.


In your case you have triple nested quotes, which is an absolute nightmare for the reader. In that case, you need to change your writing style to take away the hard-to-handle triple quotes and replace them with something that doesn't give your reader a headache. Remember that while we like punctuation, we want to use as little of it as possible - too much punctuation makes things harder to read.

In any case, your second sentence doesn't flow well, and I'd consider trying to make your response into an indirect quote. That is, describe to John what Liam said, rather than telling John exactly what Liam said.

John: "What was Liam yelling about on the oval today?

"I'm not sure, " I replied, "Something about 'I think, therefore I am' being the only quote he could remember. Or at least, that's what it sounded like"

  • What about the I replied part? When I reply don't I have to add another double inverted comma? So will it be like, I replied: ""I think therefore I am" said Liam... Thanks. – CipherBot Sep 4 '15 at 13:38
  • Oh hell. I wouldn't triple nest quotes if even slightly possible. Bear with me and I'll edit – Jon Story Sep 4 '15 at 13:39
  • Edited to incorporate that situation – Jon Story Sep 4 '15 at 13:43
  • From Wikipedia comes a good idea: In American English, double quotes are used normally (the "primary" style). If quote marks are used inside another pair of quote marks, then single quotes are used as the "secondary" style. For example: "Didn't she say 'I like red best' when asked her favorite wine?" he wondered to himself. If another set of quotes is nested, double quotes are used again, and they continue to alternate as necessary (though this is rarely done). – JPhi1618 Sep 4 '15 at 18:01
1

The general rule is to alternate between single and double quotes. We usually start with double quotes. If there's a quotation within the double quotes, use single quotes. If there's a quotation within the quotation within the quotation, use double quotes again.

Bob said, "The rule I live by is, 'Never say "no" to a friend.' If at all possible."

When the wording of the sentence requires the quotes to be next to each other, yes, it can be hard to read.

Fred quoted Bob's rule: "'Never say "no" to a friend.'"

Or worse:

Fred quoted Bob's rule: "'"No" is a word you should never say to a friend.'"

Of course deeply-nested quotes can be confusing in general, even if there is no problem reading the punctuation.

Another alternative is to use "block quotes", that is, to write a quote indented on both sides, sometimes in italics, and then leave off the outer quote marks.

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