No scare quotes, please!

Don't use quotation marks, whether single or double, to indicate that you do not accept some word or phrase or that you take it ironically. Use "so-called" or some other means of showing your attitude toward a particular word or phrase.

Use Your Own Country’s Spelling and Punctuation

If the place where you live and work uses British spelling and punctuation, follow those rules. If the place where you live and work uses American spelling and punctuation, follow those. Don’t mix them. (Following this rule can occasionally become harder than it sounds because some British publishers have decided to Americanize certain words, using, for example medieval instead of mediæval. (Oxford University Press instructed me to to use the British spelling for my Past Masters Ruskin, and while the book was in production someone there decided to change.)

Do not mix American and British punctuation systems

"Well, that was the end of it then, she was Americanizing words. Civilization would fall." — Amelia in Kate Atkinson's Case Histories

As George Bernard Shaw pointed out long ago, we are two nations separated by a common ocean and a common language. For example, British rules of punctuation require single quotes inside commas, periods, and semicolons: Jane said, 'Look at Dick run'. American rules of punctuation require double quotes outside commas, periods, and semicolons: Jane said, "Look at Dick run." Contributors to the site should pick one system and stick with it throughout an entire document. Writers are permited to translate quoted material into whatever style they follow; thus, someone following U. S. punctuation can change quoted material to follow that. Of course, quoting longer passages that appear in indented blocks of text often avoids such problems.

Whatever you do, never use double quotes for quoting material and single ones as scare quotes (see above).

Quotation marks and indented passages of text

Don't use quotation marks around blocks of inset (or set-off) text, since insetting text serves as an equivalent to quotation marks. Of course, do use quotation marks inside such blocks of text when they appear in the original — for example, in dialogue.


Do not begin a new paragraph immediately after a set-off quoted passage unless you move to a new subject. If you explain or discuss the quoted passage, start at the left margin.

Hyphens in Adjectival Phrases

When using a century as an adjective, (a) spell out number and (b) use hyphen: "eighteenth-century poets," not "18th century poets." On the other hand, when a phrase acts as a noun — e.g., "poets of the eighteenth century" — it takes no hyphen. Isn't English wonderful?

Related Resources

Last modified 11 March 2008