The use of single quotes [ ' ... ' ] or double quotes [ ... ] differs with context and geographic location. Conventionally, most English speaking countries use double quotes to mark direct speech and single quotes to mark speech within speech.

In the UK, while both styles of quotes is accepted to mark direct speech, the use of single quotes is more predominant. Also, the use of quotes can often be reverse as compared to the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In general, quotation marks are used to mark direct speech in a text, to indicate irony, or to highlight the title of works that are part of a larger whole — like chapters of a novel, an article in a magazine or newspaper, or an episode of a television series.

Comparison chart

Double Quotes versus Single Quotes comparison chart
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Type of Punctuation Punctuation
Looks like "Hello" 'Hello'
Usage To mark speech in a piece of writing; titles of short works like TV shows and articles; as scare quotes to indicate author’s disagreement with a premise (or irony) To enclose a quote within a quote; to enclose a quote within a headline; to enclose a title within a quote
Examples “I just bought a new car, ” said Tracey. OR Did you see the “Ozymandias” episode of Breaking Bad? OR We’ll see what happens with these “negotiations” politicians insist are in progress. “Out of nowhere Tracey told me, ‘I don’t like you anymore, ’ ” Mark said sadly. OR Headline: ‘Negotiations in progress, ’ say local officials OR Carl said, “That ‘Ozymandias’ episode of Breaking Bad really knocked my socks off.”
Common Misuse Often incorrectly used to emphasize a word or phrase. While not technically incorrect, the use of single quotation marks to mark speech is uncommon in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Mixing quotation marks is considered an error.
Example of Misuse We serve the “best” ice-cream in town. “I don’t like you anymore, ’ said Tracey.

General Usage Rules

Single Quotes used as a quote in a headline
Single Quotes used as a quote in a headline

Double quotes are used to mark speech, for titles of short works like TV shows and articles, as scare quotes to indicate irony or an author’s disagreement with a premise. In America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the general rule is that double quotes are used to denote direct speech.

Single quotes are used to enclose a quote within a quote, a quote within a headline, or a title within a quote.

In the UK, whether to use single or double quotes to mark direct speech depends on editorial style, but both are acceptable.

Double quotes as direct speech with single quotes as quote within - and as irony
Double quotes as direct speech with single quotes as quote within - and as irony

The quotation mark is a pair of symbols, and the text in question must be enclosed within. When a quote is “opened” to mark the start of direct speech, title, or irony, it must be closed with the same punctuation (i.e., “She walked her dog today,” not “She walked her dog today,’ or “She walked her dog today).

In the following video, The Grammar Girl explains the use of single vs double quotes:

Historical Usage

Quotation marks were first cut from metal for typesetting purposes in the mid-16th century. Before that point, direct speech in texts was marked by a change in font, or by simply indicating the speaker. By 1749, they were used prodigiously in various texts, and at that time, single quotation marks (also called inverted commas) were most often used.


For single quotation marks, some editors will insert an extra space between the double quote and the single quote within it, i.e., “Out of nowhere Tracey told me, ‘I don’t like you anymore,’ ” Mark said sadly.

Usage with other Punctuation Marks

Punctuation rules for when quotation marks are in use also differ between American and British styles.

In both British and American punctuation styles, question marks and exclamation marks that apply to the whole sentence are put outside of quotation marks: E.g., Did she just say, “How old are you”? When question marks and exclamation marks apply to just the quoted part of the sentence (like No, she said, “How cold are you?”), they are placed inside quotation marks.

Whether single or double quotes, commas and periods generally go outside of the quoted materia in British punctuation: E.g “I watered your flowers today”, Tracey said. In American punctuation style, the comma will go inside the quotation marks: E.g., “I watered your flowers today,” Tracey said.

Smart Quotes or Straight Quotes?

There's a perpetual debate amongst writers and grammarians on whether one should use "straight quotes" (two tiny lines) or smart quotes (the curly ones that look like inverted commas) in formal writing. Some think that either style is fine as long as you consistently stick to one throughout your document, and if using curly or smart quotes, make sure that they face the correct direction.

Others maintain that smart quotes should be used for speech and as apostrophes, while straight quotes are only used to denote feet and inches.

Quotes in Other Languages

While we're most familiar with quotations marks in English [], the punctuation mark for quotation is different in various languages:

Read more on Wikipedia: Non-English usage of quotation marks.

In Programming

Various quotation mark characters and their use in HTML
Various quotation mark characters and their use in HTML

In computer programming, quotes are often used as delimiters around strings. In HTML, CSS and JavaScript code, single and double quotes are interchangeable. XML and XHTML require the use of double quotes to delimit attributes of elements.

Single vs Double Quotes in PHP

There is only one difference in the use of double vs. single quotes when delimiting strings in PHP. When double quotes are used, the string is not used as-is but is scanned for $var or {$var} to substitute the variable names by their values. When single quotes are used, no such substitution is performed.

This difference has led some programmers to believe that using single quotes offers faster performance. However, there isn't any meaningful performance benefit of using single quotes in PHP.


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