Susan Grossey

Don’t quote me

We’re back!  Switzerland worked its usual magic and I have returned with several pages of my notebook filled with ideas for “Plank 6” and even “Plank 7” (writing that makes me a bit sad, as it reminds me that there are only two Planks to go…).

As it was a holiday I was catching up on my reading as well as my plotting – although, as I am now officially writing “Plank 6” I did keep away from anything set within a century of Sam, to avoid confusing myself.  And as I read four books in the fortnight, I spotted something.  Quotation marks.  At school I was taught – along with how to sharpen my quill pen and hide my ankles from prying eyes – that speech should be indicated by double quotation marks, as in this example:

  • “I’m not sure that the last word in this argument should be Conant’s,” I said to Martha.

I stick religiously to this standard in the Sam books.  But in every book I read on holiday – and in all the others I pulled feverishly from the shelves to check my discovery – speech was indicated by single quotation marks.  Now it can’t be that terrible if I’ve only just noticed it, but I do think it could cause confusion, with the same single mark being used for contractions and possessives.  In the example I gave above, if we change the doubles for singles, we get this:

  • ‘I’m not sure that the last word in this argument should be Conant’s,’ I said to Martha.

You see what happens to the initial I and the s after Conant?  The native English-speaking brain can probably make sense of it, but it could cause you to pause in your reading just to make sure – so why not use the perfectly-designed double marks to avoid any interruption to the reading experience?  What do you think?  Do you write with doubles?  Do you prefer to read with doubles or singles?  Or are you outside enjoying the sunshine and couldn’t care less?

Published by


  1. Graham Thomas Avatar
    Graham Thomas

    Dear Susan

    Welcome back from your well deserved holidays and I’m glad to hear they have given you a nice balance of relaxation and new ideas for Sam’s adventures.

    On the important “quotation marks” issue, I agree that when you actually think of it, doubles are both the correct and the better option. However, as you also rightly say, the reality is that the native brain quickly makes sense of it and, in effect, sees and understands what it is expecting to see, rather than what it is actually seeing.

    In short, for reading purposes, I don’t mind either way, even if my dear old Dad would disapprove of me saying sich a thing!

    Best wishes


    1. ihatemoneylaundering Avatar

      As ever, Graham, you have hit the nail on the head! I wonder whether it’s something crazy like saving ink (all those little marks, over thousands of books…). But I’m afraid that for me, putting double quotation marks is non-negotiable – too many years of doing it to change now.
      Best wishes from Susan

  2. Roy McCarthy Avatar
    Roy McCarthy

    Welcome back Susan. Out of habit I’ve simply always used single speech marks. For me the difficulty arises when one’s speaking character is quoting someone’s else. And (in theory anyway) the ‘someone else’ could be quoting a third speaker, and so on, like Russian dolls.

    Basically I don’t know 🙂

    1. ihatemoneylaundering Avatar

      Many thanks, Roy. I think as long as you alternate (use single marks inside double ones, or vice versa), it can work. I’ve never written a three-layer quotation, though… And I think double inside singles look uglier than singles inside doubles, which is another reason I use doubles as the default.

  3. Roy McCarthy Avatar
    Roy McCarthy

    I suppose one could, in the above example, use double outside single only as it becomes necessary. Inconsistent perhaps though.

  4. Punctuation for the petty-minded | Susan Grossey

    […] does not use inverted commas to indicate speech – just indents.  (And you know that I have strong views on inverted commas…)  But then indents are also used for new paragraphs, so it’s sometimes hard to tell […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s