Inverted commas (quotation marks), brackets and capital letters can be quite confusing to use for some people. This lesson is a quick reminder and is not meant to be all-inclusive or definitive. In the three sections below, you’ll learn how to use these common punctuation marks and make your blog posts pop. See the writing tips page on this blog for more useful writing tutorials.
When to use inverted commas or quotation marks
They are used to enclose direct speech or a quotation. Which ones you use is up to you. One school of thought says that double inverted commas (“they look like this”) should be used for direct speech, and the single ones (‘they look like this’) for quotations. Some publishing houses, bloggers and writers believe the opposite. I don’t think it matters which one you follow, as long as you’re consistent throughout your writing so that your readers are clear about what you mean.
1. Use inverted commas to enclose speech
My boss said to me, “Your back pay cheque was sent to you today.”
A comma has to be placed before the start of the direct speech. Next, comes the first part of the inverted commas, followed by the person’s direct speech. Once you’ve written down what the person actually said, remember to put a suitable punctuation mark, then end off with the second half of the inverted commas.
Punctuation marks (question mark, exclamation mark, full stop etc.) are always enclosed within the inverted commas. For example, you would not write:
My sister said, “Get out now”!
My sister’s entire speech needs to be inside the quotation marks and this includes the exclamation mark which relates to what she said.
“Are you going to finish that?” Shrek asked Fiona.
Shrek’s question – including the question mark – is included within the inverted commas. ‘Shrek’ the word that follows the inverted comma, is a proper noun so it naturally begins with a capital letter (and it also follows a question mark). However if you wrote:
“Yes, you can have it,” answered Fiona.
‘Answered’ would not be capitalised after the inverted commas because it is not a proper noun, it came after a comma (not a full stop, question mark, or exclamation mark), and it does not start a new sentence. A different way to write the above sentence is:
Fiona answered, “Yes you can have it.”
The reason ‘Y’ in ‘yes’ is capitalised is because it starts the direct speech. The first word of a direct speech is always capitalised – proper noun or not. Notice again that all punctuation marks are enclosed within the inverted commas.
2. Use inverted commas to enclose quotations
I was terrified the first time I read Stephen King’s ‘Misery’.
Shakespeare did not know how popular he would make Hamlet when he penned that mighty phrase, ‘To be or not to be’.
Remember to stick with whatever (double or single inverted commas) you’ve chosen, so that your writing is consistent throughout.
When to use brackets
1. Use brackets to enclose a statement inserted into a sentence
My dad persisted for months (even though I expressed no interest) about me joining the armed forces.
If you’re having problems in placing brackets correctly, check to see if removing the phrase you inserted would leave you with a sentence that makes complete sense. If this is so, then you’ve placed the brackets in the right place.
Brackets are very useful when adding additional (though not crucial) information to your sentence. See here for more on brackets.
2. Brackets are useful for enclosing numbers in your writing
A good blogger should possess the following skills.
1. The ability to write grammatically correct sentences
(i) Readers aren’t impressed with mistake-littered posts.
(ii) Articles with errors show a lack of writing and editing skills.
(iii) Ungrammatical sentences do not portray professionalism.
(iv) Readers will be distracted by mistakes, rather than be wowed with your genius.
2. A knowledge of SEO
(i) Content is only king as far as the SEO is tightly in place.
(iii) Excellent material will go unread unless people know it’s there.
(iv) Your posts will never be found in Google searches unless they’re properly optimised for your chosen keywords.
I think that I’ve now beaten this one to death, so we’ll move on.
When to use Capital Letters
1. Always start a sentence with a capital letter.
2. Always write the pronoun ‘I’ as a capital letter. If you’re a writer people expect you to pay attention to your writing. Take the extra split second to capitalise your ‘I’ even when on social networking sites. Not doing this looks unprofessional.
3. Always begin proper nouns (Johnson, England, Pluto) with a capital letter.
4. Use a capital letter to start days of the week and months of the year.
5. Use a capital letter to begin reporting a direct speech.
This has to be done even when the direct speech is not the beginning of the sentence.
6. Use a capital letter for the main words in titles of films, books, poems, songs etc.
‘Alice in Wonderland’ or ‘We Three Kings’ (for example). Conjunctions (with, to) and articles (the, an) in titles need not be capitalised, unless of course, they appear first in the title.
7. Use a capital letter for abbreviations if they are also used for the full words.
For example ‘FBI’ is always capitalised because if you write ‘Federal Bureau of Investigation’ you would need to use capital letters.
Anne Lyken-Garner – a YPP team member – is a published author, blogger and editor. See how she can help your writing business and help you edit your work.