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What's the Difference in Usage Between Using Single and Two Quotation Marks/Inverted Commas?

I know that they are used inside double quotes for a quotation within a quotation, but when else should they be used? I've seen them used in all sorts of syntactical situations, but where do I find a comprehensive guide to its proper usage?

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This depends quite a bit on whether you are using British or U.S. English. –  Robusto Jun 24 '11 at 16:30
When refering to a single word or character, I use single quotes. This is just from having a programming background as most programming languages use this syntax. –  OghmaOsiris Jun 24 '11 at 16:43
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marked as duplicate by Callithumpian, kiamlaluno, RegDwigнt Jun 24 '11 at 23:04

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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

A quick search turned up this similar question on another site.

In short, quotes within quotes are the main usage of enclosing single quotes. Another common usage is for quotes in a title or headline. Of course, the same character is used for apostrophes when typing, as the QWERTY keyboard has never had separate keys for an apostrophe and a single quote (the look of which CAN differ subtly depending on the typeface).

According to this other page, in British English, single-quotes and double-quotes have historically been reversed in terms of preference; normally, quotations should be enclosed in single quotes, and double-quotes are used for internal quotations. This preference is still present but fading in the UK, and American usage has always preferred double-quotes for the initial quotation and single for internal quotes.

Unofficially, I have sometimes seen single quotes used to denote thought instead of speech. More commonly, the thought is italicized, or no formatting is applied at all; these styles are more correct, and if you had written a manuscript employing single quotes in this manner, they'd likely be removed or replaced by your editor or typesetter.

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In Computer Science double quotes represent a String and single quotes represent a Character.

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I'm afraid your joke (I'm assuming it was a joke) was ruined for me by using the term 'Computer Science' to refer to a few specific programming languages. –  John Bartholomew Jun 24 '11 at 18:37
I would say that it's the other way around. There are a few specific languages where that is NOT the case. –  CaseyB Jun 24 '11 at 18:45
There are plenty of languages where that isn't the case, and the number is growing. Some examples, old and new: Lisp, Fortran, RPG, Perl, Python, Ruby, PHP, Lua, Erlang. (Mainly, most languages don't have a separate character type.) –  John Y Jun 24 '11 at 22:33
That was my point. Those languages consider it a String of length one where as C, C++, C#, Java, etc consider Character a separate data type. –  CaseyB Jun 25 '11 at 0:48
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Single quotes are used in formal works of philosophy and linguistics to mark off words being discussed as words, or used in a special sense. For example:

This implies that ‘Hesperus’ and ‘Phosphorus’ are different names for the very same planet, which in turn implies that the sentence ‘Hesperus is the same planet as Phosphorus’ is true.

Single quotes are easier on the eyes when reading material that uses quotes frequently, which is why academic publishers adopted this format for works in these areas.

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Another argument in favor of single quotes would be that double quotes are often used to attribute material to a real or fictional entity other than the author of the surrounding text. Using single quotes helps make clear that the author is not attempting to shed attribution for the content therein. –  supercat Oct 17 '12 at 3:21
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