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I'm quite unsure regarding the usage of single quotation marks (') and double quotation marks (") in English.

I had thought that double quotation marks were usually used to quote sentences from passages/given sources, nouns/things ("Westminster Bridge", "alliteration", or "voice" regarding its usage in poetry), as well as some less common/important uses including being snarky and using them to indicate a sarcastic remark.

Someone had told me today that you were supposed to refer to things with two inverted commas (") instead of one.

Which one is correct? Could someone explain the usages between the two different types of quotation marks?

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3 Answers 3

This is simply a question of style. Wikipedia has a huge article on the subject. The three passages most relevant to your question are:

Quotations and speech
Single or double quotation marks denote either speech or a quotation. Neither style—single or double—is an absolute rule, though double quotation marks are preferred in the United States, and both single and double quotation marks are used in the United Kingdom. A publisher’s or author’s style may take precedence over national general preferences. The important rule is that the style of opening and closing quotation marks must be matched[.]

[...]

Irony
To avoid the potential for confusion between ironic quotes and direct quotations, some style guides specify single quotation marks for [irony], and double quotation marks for verbatim speech.

[...]

Use–mention distinction
Either quotation marks or italic type can emphasize that an instance of a word refers to the word itself rather than its associated concept. [...] A three-way distinction is occasionally made between normal use of a word (no quotation marks), referring to the concept behind the word (single quotation marks), and the word itself (double quotation marks). [...] In common usage, there may be a distinction between the single and double quotation marks in this context; often, single quotation marks are used to embrace single characters, while double quotation marks enclose whole words or phrases[.]

Emphasis mine. Read the entire article for further insight.

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11  
Also, in quotations, alternating marks indicate nesting. –  Dennis Williamson Sep 27 '10 at 16:47
    
The "Irony" section in your answer below seems to have been edited in Wikipedia to remove the use of single quotation marks to indicate irony. Certainly I use double quotes for speech and single quotes to indicate irony. –  Nick Pierpoint Oct 3 '12 at 14:44

I have been using double marks when I was writing and have never used single marks. Those kinds of preferences is on the eye of the beholder. However other might argue that this is a difference between English and American.

EDIT (23/9/14) Such as while America spells defence "defense", while English spells it as "defence".

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1  
Wrong - the English spell 'defence' 'defence', and interestingly, the Americans, 'defense'. –  JFW Jul 21 '11 at 5:17
1  
Oh, thats where I got wrong. Thanks for correcting me. –  Phonics The Hedgehog Jul 21 '11 at 21:14

Adding to the insight given by RedDwight, I found that in practice single marks are commonly used for single words or short sentences while double marks are used to denote longer passages of text. This may have become naturalized to some (me), but I don't know of any consensus on this.

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Interesting. I tend to do that as well (unless correcting, as I've done on this site, for what I think is consistency). It's also one key-press cheaper for me to type a single as opposed to double-quotes (shift + quote key). I can also amortize the cost of the two key-presses out over longer phrases, which seems to justify the effort. –  jbelacqua Mar 20 '11 at 21:20

protected by tchrist Jul 1 at 0:54

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