Городское общественное объединение

"Гильдия профессиональных переводчиков"





Quotation Marks*, Italics, Underlining

Words actually spoken – quotation marks only

Quotation marks are used to separate the words actually spoken by someone, from the rest of a sentence. Both the sentences in the examples below could be written without the quotation marks – but the use of quotation marks emphasises that the words were spoken by John, in the first example, and the daughter, in the second – and that the writer himself does not necessarily agree with them.

Examples:                 John told me he would 'never work for such a fool again.'

                                   My daughter says her flat is 'unfit for a dog to live in.'

WARNING: Be very careful to quote only the words actually spoken. Indirect statements and questions are not marked off by quotation marks.


'You are late,' he told me. (Direct statement) – He told me I was late. (Indirect statement)

'Why have you come?' she asked. (Direct question) – She asked why I had come. (Indirect question)

You may use single ('.....') or double (".....") quotation marks for any of the reasons given in this chapter, but be careful to:

End with single, if you start with single

End with double, if you start with double

Remember: quotation marks are always used in pairs. Make sure you have written both opening and closing quotation marks.


Marking off words in a special way

Quotation marks, underlining (in handwriting and typing), or italics (in print) may be used for any of the reasons given in the next 5 sections. They indicate that there is something special about the words marked off in this way.

Note: In sections below, underlining or quotation marks would be used in handwriting where italic is shown in print.

Examples:                 I read it in the Daily Express.

                                   / read it in the Daily Express,

                                   I read it in the "Daily Express".

* Quotation marks are also called 'inverted commas.'


Titles of books, newspapers, magazines, plays, films, etc.

Examples:                 I read 'The Economist' every week.

                                   Have you seen the film version of Oliver Twist?

Remember that if the title of a book etc. is the same as the name of a character in it, quotation marks, italics, or underlining may be essential to avoid confusion. Compare:

                                   I find Jane Eyre fascinating. (The book is fascinating)

                                   I find Jane Eyre fascinating. (The character is fascinating)


Names of ships, houses, hotels

Names of ships, houses, hotels, etc. are often marked off – but this is not absolutely necessary. Do not mark off the names of churches, schools, and public buildings.

Examples:                 The Star of India sails on Tuesday.

                                   The 'International' is the best hotel in town.

                                   'The Pines' was certainly an imposing house.

But:                            St Paul's Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament attract many visitors each year.

                                   The Sacred Heart Convent School is opposite Government House.


Foreign words

If a non-English word is used, it is generally marked off

Examples:                 We all had boeuf a la mode.

                                   Piccadilly Circus derives its name from pickadille, a type of neckwear popular in the

                                   eighteenth century.


Words referred to as items of language

If a word is referred to as an item of language – not being part of the structure of the sentence, then it is marked off.

Examples:                 Look up 'synopsis' in the dictionary, please.

                                   'Semi-automatic' means that you have some control of the machine.


Words not chosen by the writer

In the following examples you can see that the writer does not believe that 'peace' and 'progress' are the right words to use. But they are words that have been used by other people – the writer in fact is criticising the use of the words.

Examples:                 'Peace' for the Romans often meant death and slavery for their victims.

                                   'Progress' in the twentieth century means more noise, more smoke, and great expense   for everyone.


Proverbs and quotations

Example:                   'To err is human, to forgive, divine,' as Pope says.



Use only underlining, or italics in print – but not quotation marks – for emphasis.

Examples:                 My cousin is very handsome.

                                   We came home drenched.


Quotation marks, italics, underlining

a) In English both opening and closing quotation marks are written on the same level.

b) The final punctuation mark goes inside the inverted commas.

c) When dictating a text, say 'quote' for the opening quotation marks and 'unquote' for the closing ones. Eg.: His actual words were: (quote) "People do not change, they adapt themselves." (unquote)


Direct speech

Mind the difference in punctuating direct speech in English and in Russian.

In Russian                                                                     In English

Он сказал: «Я скоро вернусь».                                    He said, "I'll be back soon."

«Я скоро вернусь», – сказал он.                                  " I'll be back soon," he said.

«Когда вы вернетесь?» – спросил он.                         " When will you come?" he asked.

«Ничего подобного!» – воскликнул он.                       "Nothing of the kind!" he exclaimed.

Remember that in English: a) the dash is not used to introduce direct speech; b) the full stop and the comma belonging to direct speech go inside the inverted commas (in Russian these punctuation marks follow the inverted commas); c) the colon, which is the only punctuation mark used to introduce direct speech in Russian, is used in English when a long sentence is quoted; in most cases direct speech is introduced after a comma; d) no dash is used after direct speech.


Direct Speech – conversation reported as it is spoken

Basic patterns – one speaker, one or a few sentences

Quotation marks. Single or double quotation marks enclose all words actually spoken.

Capital letters. Write a capital when direct speech starts – even if this is within a sentence – see examples 6, 7, 8, 11. Do not write a capital when direct speech starts again in a sentence – see example 3.

Question marks and exclamation marks. These replace full stops and commas. Never write a full stop or comma plus an exclamation mark or question mark.

More than one sentence. Close quotation marks after the whole speech. Do not close them after each sentence.

Full stop or comma? Study example 4. A full stop is used, not a comma, because if the words he said are removed, two sentences are left – see example 2. Now study example 3. A comma is used because if he said is removed, one sentence is left – see example 1.

Colon. A colon is sometimes used instead of a comma to introduce direct speech, as in examples 7 and 8 (commas could be used here instead). The colon is often used after an introductory collective term – such as 'these words.' The colon may also emphasise that direct speech follows.

Plays. The form in example 11 is used in plays only. The words in brackets show how the words are spoken. They are a guide for the actor.

Relative position of marks. Study the examples below very carefully to see how commas, full stops, question marks, and exclamation marks are placed in relation to the quotation marks.

If a whole sentence of direct speech ends with quotation marks these must come after the full stop, question mark or exclamation mark as in the following examples.


1. 'We shall come back at seven o'clock, when your husband is at home.'

2. 'We shall come back at seven o'clock. Your husband will be at home.'

3. 'We shall come back at seven o'clock,' he said, 'when your husband will be at home.'

4. 'We shall come back at seven o'clock,' he said. 'Your husband will be at home.'

5. 'We shall come back at seven o'clock, when your husband will be at home,' he said.

6. He said, 'We shall come back at seven o'clock, when your husband will be at home.'

7. He spoke very insistently: 'We shall come back at seven o'clock, when your husband is at home.'

8. He spoke to her in these words: 'We shall come back at seven o'clock, when your husband is at home.'

9. 'When will your husband be at home?' he asked. 'We want to see him.'

10. 'We must see your husband!' the visitor insisted.

11 Visitor (insistently): We shall be back at seven o'clock. Your husband will be at home.


The ways of presenting dialogues are different in English and in Russian. See examples below and be very attentive with punctuation!

"You have an American division facing your division on the front. The American division has 'Lance' missiles. A nasty thing?"

"Of course, comrade general."

"Just supposing, lieutenant, that you were chief of staff of the Soviet division, how would you destroy the enemy's missiles?"

"With our own 9K21 missiles."

"Very good, lieutenant, but the location of the American missiles is not known."

"I would ask the air force to locate them and possibly bomb them."

"But there's bad weather, lieutenant, and the anti-aircraft defences are strong."

"Then I would send forward from our division a deep reconnaissance company to find the missiles, cut the throats of the missile crew and blow up the missiles."

(From Viktor Suvorov. Spetsnaz.)

– Возмутительные порядки, – трусливо забормотал Ипполит Матвеевич, – форменное безобразие! В милицию на них нужно жаловаться.

Остап молчал.

– Нет, действительно, это ч-черт знает что такое! – продолжал горячиться Воробьянинов. – Дерут с трудящихся втридорога. Ей-Богу!.. За какие-то подержанные десять стульев двести тридцать рублей. С ума сойти...

– Да, – деревянно сказал Остап.

– Правда? – переспросил Воробьянинов. – С ума сойти можно!..

– Можно.

Остап подошел к Воробьянинову вплотную и, оглянувшись по сторонам, дал предводителю короткий, сильный и незаметный для постороннего глаза удар в бок.

– Вот тебе милиция! Вот тебе дороговизна стульев для трудящихся всех стран! Вот тебе ночные прогулки по девочкам! Вот тебе седина в бороду! Вот тебе бес в ребро!

(Илья Ильф, Евгений Петров, Двенадцать стульев)

Переводим правильно

Трудности перевода: когда простота хуже воровства (Журналист, № 1 (43) 2020)


Андрей Дынич, доктор технических наук, патентный переводчик (английский, китайский языки)

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