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Single Quotation Mark (')

Single quotation marks (') are used inside another pair of quotation marks ("), or a written quote-within-a-quote. For example,"When I say 'immediately', I mean some time before August", said the manager. This punctuation mark may look like inverted (upside-down) commas, depending on the font type being used.

Introduction to the single quotation mark (')

The single quotation mark consists of an upside down comma ('), or filled in “six” shape at the top of the quoted text, which is closed by a right side up comma, or filled in “nine” shape at the top of the last word of quoted text. Single quotation marks are a type of punctuation and are also known as nested quotation, single quotes, single quotemarks, single speech marks, and inverted commas. The double quote mark (") was used prior to the single quote mark (') historically.

The primary function of the single quote mark (') is used to set off additional speech or emphasis inside a pair or double quote marks. Because of this unusual distinction, its usage can be confusing to many. 

How to use single quotes within double quotes

When writing in American English, single quotes are used as the secondary style of quotation within the original double quotation marks; in British English, the order is reversed. 

Here is an example from American English:

“I asked your father what type of chocolate he preferred, and I thought he said, ‘Dark chocolate is best’.” 

Here is the same example in British English:

‘I asked your father what type of chocolate he preferred, and I thought he said, “Dark chocolate is best”.’

Other information on quotation marks

There are two types of single quotation marks, generally known as neutral, vertical or straight quotations, and curly, typographic, or book quotes. Most computer keyboards only have curly quotes today, though there may be variations through font sizes.

Different languages use different punctuation, symbols, different symbol heights, different symbol direction, and different symbol orders to denote quotations, but in the United States, Canada, and the U.K. the format is generally the same (except for the single and double quote order noted earlier). 

Single quote marks are not used in Bulgarian, Icelandic, Russian, or Ukrainian languages. Single-angle quotation marks are used in France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In some languages single quote marks or their equivalents indicated emphasized meaning, but this is not the case in English. In English, single quote marks often serve indicate syntax, within linguistics, or a change in meaning, because they may indicate irony or simply additional quoted material inside other speech or quoted material. Some languages, such as Polish, also use a dash to denote speech, although this is not usually the case with a quote within another quote but is used only to denote that someone is speaking.

The Spanish language uses both angled quote marks and double quote marks. In this case single quote marks are never used at all in Spanish texts.

Corner brackets instead of quotation marks are used in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean languages, with different orientations depending on whether the written text is vertical or horizontal. In Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, corner brackets are used most of the time, but English-style quotes are also used.

James Joyce, the famous author of Ulysses, insisted upon using the dash to indicate speech instead of the English quotation mark, possibly in protest against English rule of Ireland, his home country.

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