Sunday, April 24, 2011

Correct Use of Quotation Marks, Parentheses, Dashes, and Brackets

Quotation marks

Previous posts have discussed the order or arrangement of quotation marks with period, comma, semicolon, question mark, and exclamation point. The following rules are therefore in order:

1. Double quotation marks are used to enclose direct quotations.

The manager wrote, "Our regular working hours are from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m."

Make sure that quotation marks are placed at the end as well as at the beginning of the quotation.

When a quotation is interrupted by he said or another parenthetical expression, both parts of the quotation are set off.

"Mr. Agudo," said, "how many personnel do we have?"

2. Double quotation marks may be used to set off directly quoted words or phrases, slang expressions, and words or phrases that you may want to emphasize.

The manager's request for "a well-trained staff" impressed the top management of the company.

The term "heavy" is used rather freely today.

Some authorities prefer to underscore rather than to use quotation marls in the foregoing samples. Underscored typewritten or longhand writing is italicised in print.

3. Single quotation marks are used to enclose a quotation within a quotation or slang expression within a quotation.

The customer said to the computer technician, "What is meant by the term 'bandwidth'?"

4. Double quotation marks are used to enclose the names of chapters of books, titles of magazine articles, names of songs, and other subdivisions.

The March issue of Business World contained a very interesting article entitled "Budgeting Our National Income."

It is customary to underscore (for printing in italics) the names of books and publications. Put the titles of chapters and articles and the name of the songs in quotation marks. In business letters the title of a book is usually written in capital letters.

Our teacher has recommended that every student read the book Writing Effective Letters. (Or: . . . WRITING EFFECTIVE LETTERS.)

Whenever one of the articles A, An, and The is a part of the title of a n article or chapter, place the quotation marks before A, An, or The.

The chapter on "The Art of Writing a Letter" is very practical. (Not: The chapter on the "Art of Writing a Letter" is very practical.)

Whenever A, An, or The is a part of the title of the book, a magazine, or a newspaper, it should be underscored (for printing in italics) or written in capital letters.

We have urged our students to study carefully The Art of Writing Letters or: . . .THE ART OF WRITING LETTERS.

Order of punctuation marks

1. The period and the comma are always placed inside the quotation marks.

He said, "We'll be happy to send the brochure."

"Thank you very much, " I answered.

In the British and Canadian style of punctuation, which is preferred by many American authors and writers, the period and the comma are placed outside the quotation marks whenever they belong, not to the quotation, but to the whole sentence or the clause containing the quotation.

He called me "Larry",

The secretary asked, "Where is Mr. Reyes?", but I had to tell her I hadn't seen the boss.

2. The semicolon and the colon are generally placed outside of the quotation marks.

This is what I mean by "immediately": Do it now!

The email read, "Rush order 1085": consequently, we shipped immediately.

3. All other punctuation marks are placed inside the quotation marks if they belong to the quotation; otherwise they are placed outside the quotation marks.

He said, "Will you accept the offer?"

Question mark referring only to the quoted material:

Did he say, "What will be the charges"? (Question mark refers to the entire sentence here.)

The boss shouted, "I told you, 'close that door'!"

"Look out for that car!" the man shouted.

4. When a quotation consists of several sentences, place quotation marks at the beginning of the quotation and at the end of the quotation, not at the beginning and end of each sentence.

5. If a quotation consists of several paragraphs, place quotation marks at the beginning of the quotation, at the beginning of each paragraph, and at the end of the quotation, but not at the end of each paragraph.

Punctuating parenthetical material

Commas, parentheses. dashes, and brackets are used interchangeably by many authors and writers in setting off parenthetical material. Although we cannot be arbitrary in determining how we shall punctuate such material, a good suggestion to follow is usually this: If the parenthetical material is short and closely related to the sentence, use commas; if the  parenthetical material is long, use parentheses or dashes. No harm-and-fast rule can be offered or followed, however.


1. Use parentheses to set off independent or disconnected parenthetic expressions that are explanatory or supplementary.

This memo (I think Mr. Agudo submitted it last week) covers the period from March 1 to June 15.

2. Use parentheses to enclose references and directions.

These changes have been prepared for all accounts (see pages 7 to 12 for job orders) effective June 1.

3. Use parentheses to enclose figures used appositively.

Our apples list for five dollars ($5) in lots of one (1) dozen.

We received twenty (20) orders for our merchandise this week.

Place the word "dollars" before the figure in parentheses; but place such words as "orders," "shipments'" "tons," "barrels," and the like after the figure in parentheses.

The shipment of one hundred ten (110) barrels of apples arrived this morning.

4. Use parentheses to enclose numbers or letters which precede items in a series.

After the orders have been registered, they are classified as follows: (1) F.I. (Fill immediately); (2) HFC (Hold for Confirmation); and (3) CAR (Credit Approval Required).

When parentheses and other punctuation marks are used together. the principal part of the sentence is punctuated exactly a it would be if the parenthetical material were not present. A punctuation mark follows the second parenthesis if this mark applies to the whole sentence and not merely to the material in parentheses.

Correct: The reason-why appeal is better adapted to satisfying needs (business or household); the short-circuit appeal is better suited to satisfying longings and desires of a more personal nature.

A punctuation mark precedes the second mark of parentheses if the punctuation mark refers to material within parentheses.

A complete separate sentence enclosed in parentheses begins with a capital letter, but a parenthetical sentence element within a sentence usually begins with a small letter.

I shall invite them (they may be away) to meet with us next Tuesday.


The dash should be used cautiously. It is often overused by inexperienced writers. In advertising copy, it seems to be used as a substitute for almost every mark from the comma to the period. In ordinary writing, however, it should not take the places properly belonging to other punctuation marks.

1. Use the dash to indicate a sudden break in the continuity of thought or structure.

Manila Furniture Company ordered ten of our narra coffe tables - I forgot the style number - for one of their hotel accounts.

2. Use the dash for emphasis before a short appositive phrase.

I'd like to see Ms. Castillo -  the Ms. Castillo of your marine department.

We called on the Manila Electrical Company - the principal supplier of electrical parts in the country.

3. Use the dash to set off appositive expressions containing commas.

Three of our cars - the Ford Escape, the Toyota Land Cruiser, and the Mitsubishi Pajero - are in excellent condition.

4. Use the dash for emphasis to set off a repetitive word or phrase.

We need your payment within fifteen days -  fifteen days, not a day later!

5. Use the dash after as, namely, that is, and so forth, when used to introduce a series of items. This use is now, however, uncommon.

There are four steps in our sales training program; namely -

1. A week period in the factory
2. A week period in the offices
3. A week period on the road working with an experienced sales personnel
4. A week period traveling with the sales manager throughout the entire sales territory.

6. Use a dash before an appositive clause that restricts or summarizes a preceding series of words.

Competence, integrity, and reliability -  these qualities we demand from our employees.

7. Use the dash between dates or numbers to indicate to or and.

Our regular working hours are from 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.


1. Use brackets to enclose material inserted in a quotation by someone other than the writer of the quotation. Such insertions or interpolations may consist of editorial comments, corrections, or explanations.

In that period [2009] sales dropped 18%.

One of the four original partners [Jose] started his own company.

Use the brackets to set off parenthetical material within parenthetical material.

The creation of our aviation department (Mr. Gayamat was the man who started it [see page 7 of  the Annual Report]) was the principal accomplishment of our company last year.

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