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I’ve been under the impression that you use single quotation marks for single characters or numerals.

Usage: ‘1’ or ‘a’ and not “1” or “a”.

(You would double quotation marks for anything longer than one character.)

Is this a correct assumption?

Note: I’m aware that there are topics that discuss the usage of both single and double quotation marks, but my question is intended to be a specific as possible as it may benefit others here.

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I've certainly never heard of that convention. –  Urbycoz Aug 2 '12 at 13:23
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I've heard that it varies by region and personal preference. Double quotes are more common in then US and single quotes are more common in the UK. –  American Luke Aug 2 '12 at 13:25
    
I also think it's changed over time. I have an old copy of Lord of the Rings, and it has double quotes. But seeing the new editions on Amazon, they've been changed to single quotes. American books always seems to have double. Also, if I remember, Mary Pollock's books had double quotes. –  asymptotically Aug 2 '12 at 13:53
    
@asymptotically You are mistaken. The unauthorized — and illegal — 1965 Ace paperback of The Lord of the Rings erroneously converted Tolkien’s original single quotes into doubles, and committed many another grievous mangling as well. Both Tolkiens, père et fils, have always been 100% consistent in their use of quotation marks: single on the outside, double when nested. –  tchrist Aug 2 '12 at 14:32
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@tchrist - You should probably have put weasel quotes around "illegal" there. At the time under US law, TLotR was in the Public Domain in the USA. That was back in the bucolic days when Congress actually allowed things to enter the Public Domain... Still, if he really has an Ace edition, he should hold onto it. I've seen them selling online for $150. –  T.E.D. Aug 2 '12 at 14:53

2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

No it is not.

I believe you probably got that impression, directly or indirectly, from the programming language C, which does in fact have that as a rule. However, human languages are not programming languages. We don't really have an overwhelming need as people to differentiate a single letter from a string that happens to have only a single character in it.

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1  
Indeed, for how many ‘characters’ are there in ‘ǖ’? –  tchrist Aug 2 '12 at 14:28
    
lol... I suspect you're right, @T.E.D. This reminds me of the time when I started confusing basic English spellings after I took French lessons that lasted for 2 years. Thank you! –  Ray Aug 2 '12 at 14:55

In the U.S. (at least according to the Chicago Manual of Style), the only thing you're supposed to use single quotes for is quotations within quotations. This strikes me as a grievous underuse of a potentially useful punctuation mark. I would be interested in knowing what the British system is.

Grammar Girl has a nice article on this question.

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2  
If not fully utlizing every character on the keyboard bothers you, you'd make a great Perl programmer. :-) –  T.E.D. Aug 2 '12 at 14:48
    
@T.E.D.: I have programmed in Perl, but I'm not particularly fond of it. :-) –  Peter Shor Aug 2 '12 at 14:51
    
+1 for the link, @PeterShor –  Ray Aug 2 '12 at 15:02

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