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How to Use Inverted Commas, Brackets and Capital Letters

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. 

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17 Comments on "How to Use Inverted Commas, Brackets and Capital Letters"

  1. Eric says:

    This is a very helpful post that I will be bookmarking and coming back to for a quick look when I have questions especially when using the inverted commans and brackets. I am know I can improve in that area.

    I always forget to use captial letter for brands or websites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.

    Thanks for the information!

    Eric

    • That’s great, Eric. I’m so glad you find this post beneficial. And you’re right. brands and websites should definitely be capitalised.

  2. Abigail Lim says:

    This is certainly a useful write-up about how to do write-ups. I agree that proper web content really should have good grammar and correct punctuation usage. This would enable the readers to read your web content with appreciation and enjoyment, and this would definitely make them visit your website time and again. Thank you for this information!

    • Anne Lyken-Garner says:

      I definitely like a good read on the web. And do appreciate when the writers take the time to create not just a helpful piece, but one which is readable and well-written. I know this (and the other articles in the series) will go a long way to helping writers do that.

  3. Chimezirim Odimba says:

    This is a very good reminder of the basics of good punctuation. Isn’t it funny that we call things basic even though many good writers don’t comply with them? I will definitely pay more attention to these in my work — Anything less isn’t good enough.

    • Anne Lyken-Garner says:

      You’re right, Chimezirim. These things are far from basic, though. I’ve seen many bloggers fail to use them properly. Either they’ve never learned them, or neglect to use the knowledge they have.

      As you said, anything less isn’t good enough. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Kingsley Agu says:

    OMG! I didn’t know half all this rules in English! I seriously will keep this in mind next time I want to write. Thanks Ann for the great tips.

    • Anne Lyken-Garner says:

      HI Kingsley. The ‘writing tips’ page link in the first paragraph of the post takes you to a page with even more English writing rules. I thought you might like to bookmark it. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment.

  5. Khaja moin says:

    These tips are very full for me. I normally make these mistakes, in confusion.
    Thanks for making me clear on this topic.
    This blog keep on helping me to improve my writing skills.

    Thank you Oni, for starting this awesome blog.

    ~@Khajamoin1

    • Anne Lyken-Garner says:

      You’re welcome, Khaja. We’ll be running some more like these and will link to them from the writing tips page.
      Anne

  6. PeggySue says:

    Hello Anne,
    In item 2 of your section on ‘When to use quotation marks’, you mention about being consistent in your use of such marks.
    Oops… Your first sentence in item 2 is not consistent with your second sentence in item 2. In the former your full-stop is placed after the quotation mark, yet in the latter your full-stop is placed before…
    I have to admit I’m far worse that that myself, and becoming even worse as I get older, therefore you article is a great help to me – I’ve bookmarked it for future reference. You’ve made the information very clear to understand. Thank you.

    • Anne Lyken-Garner says:

      Hi Peggy Sue,
      Thanks for your comment. In item 1 the full stop is closing the entire sentence, not just the direct speech. The entire sentence is always written like that: ‘person said’ + ‘what they said’ + end of sentence.

      In item 2 ‘Misery’ has to be in quotes because it’s the name of a book/movie. Therefore the quotes are only around this word. The end quote cannot come after the full stop because nothing else needs that quotation mark. The full stop usually comes after it in that case.

      I’m sure I’ve muddled it up more with that explanation….

  7. PeggySue says:

    Hi Anne,

    There’s slight confusion… I was only refering to your first two sentences in item 2, headed ‘Use inverted commas to enclose quotations’ (under the section headed ‘When to use inverted commas or quotation marks’). Your answer referred to item 1, so I probably didn’t explain myself properly.

    I was comparing your first two sentences in item 2 of that section – one has quotes around ‘Misery’ and your second sentence (in item 2) has quotes around ‘To be or not to be’. Where I spotted the inconsistency between these two sentences is that in your second sentence the quotes were written like this …‘To be or not to be.’ i.e The first two sentences in item 2 were inconsistent. I wasn’t referring to anything in item 1.
    Apologies for repeating myself here, just wanted to be clear in what I was referring to. Regards.

    • Anne Lyken-Garner says:

      Ah… I see what you mean. Thanks for pointing that out. I didn’t spot it (and I thought I’d edited this post until it died).

  8. Inverted commas are one of the thing which always confused me.

    I was not aware that commas should be outside the punctuation mark or inside. But this post cleared all my doubts and I am going to correct them on my blog.

    Thanks for the share.

  9. Plaban Manna says:

    This article cleared many doubts. I had a big confusion about usage inverted commas.

  10. Yogesh says:

    I started learning english when I was in 6th standard and studied about inverted commas, Brackets and Captial letters later on. But these inverted commas and Capital Letters always confused me upto 8th standard. Reading this post remembered me my old days. Thanks Anne for sharing this..

Onibalusi

Welcome! I'm Bamidele Onibalusi, a young writer and blogger. I believe writers are unique and highly talented individuals that should be given the respect they deserve. This blog offers practical advice to help you become truly in charge of your writing career.

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