Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

The answer to this question clearly explains the standard rule that when you have multiple quoted paragraphs, each new paragraph starts with an opening quotation mark, but only the final quoted paragraph has a closing quotation mark at its end.

This Wikipedia article on Quotation Marks agrees:

Quotation marks are used for multiple-paragraph quotations in some cases, especially in narratives. The convention in English is to give opening quotation marks to the first and each subsequent paragraph, using closing quotation marks only for the final paragraph of the quotation [ . . . ]

However, neither explains why this is the standard practice. What good does it do? What is it trying to avoid? What harm would occur if it were ignored and people put both opening and closing quotation marks on each adjacent quoted paragraph?

share|improve this question
    
so quotation marks are not parentheses (nor brackets) after all - at least not in the UK|USA. –  naxa Jun 27 '13 at 7:42
    
I have at least once seen a multi-paragraph parenthesis, with an opening ( at the beginning of each paragraph and a closing ) only after the last one. –  GEdgar Aug 8 '13 at 19:42

4 Answers 4

up vote 106 down vote accepted
+50

“That seems like an odd way to use punctuation,” Tom said. “What harm would there be in using quotation marks at the end of every paragraph?”

“Oh, that’s not all that complicated,” J.R. answered. “If you closed quotes at the end of every paragraph, then you would need to reidentify the speaker with every subsequent paragraph.

“Say a narrative was describing two or three people engaged in a lengthy conversation. If you closed the quotation marks in the previous paragraph, then a reader wouldn’t be able to easily tell if the previous speaker was extending his point, or if someone else in the room had picked up the conversation. By leaving the previous paragraph’s quote unclosed, the reader knows that the previous speaker is still the one talking.”

“Oh, that makes sense. Thanks!”

share|improve this answer
3  
‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪Yes, good! –  tchrist Jan 3 '13 at 22:46
4  
Cmillz might have gotten in first with the short answer, but this one has real style! –  FumbleFingers Jan 3 '13 at 22:55
10  
"Yes, but why can't there simply not be quotation marks between speech paragraphs in the first place?" asked Joe. "Why does that initial quotation mark at the beginning of each paragraph need to be there?" –  Joe Z. Jan 4 '13 at 2:02
4  
@Joe: How else would you know someone is still speaking? In other words, there are three possibilities, for the next paragraph: (a) the original speaker is still speaking; (b) someone else in the room picks up the discussion; or (c) nobody is talking, but the narrative resumes. An open-quote with no prior close-quote is used to designate (a); an open-quote with a prior close quote is used to designate (b); and no open-quote with a close quote is used to designate (c). –  J.R. Jan 4 '13 at 9:55
2  
@Thorarin: As one with a similar background, I can't bring myself to put an emoticon at the end of a parenthetical statement. –  J.R. Jan 8 '13 at 16:19

The lack of closing quotation marks is a convenient clue for the reader that the quotation goes on beyond the end of the paragraph.

The addition of quotation marks at the start of each paragraph within a multi-paragraph quotation ensures that a casual or forgetful reader is reminded that the paragraph he is reading is (part of) a quotation, which he might not otherwise notice if he starts reading at the beginning of the paragraph, not at the beginning of the quotation.

The added starting quotation marks are in a way inconsistent; but the disadvantage is merely aesthetic, while the advantage is functional, and function rightly trumps form here. The inconsistency does not appear to be confusing in any way.

share|improve this answer
1  
I disagree with it being a functional advantage - for years, almost every time I saw it, I would automatically think it was a quote of a quote, and have to correct myself, go back, and reread the passage again. Still, +1 for explaining why it's used that way. –  Izkata Jan 4 '13 at 3:36
    
@Izkata: Really? A paragraph quoted without introduction? (Thanks!) –  Cerberus Jan 4 '13 at 4:07
    
Look at how J.R. used it in his answer - the identifying speaker is in the middle of the paragraph. That was how I was expecting the "embedded" quotes to read. –  Izkata Jan 4 '13 at 4:13
    
@Izkata: Hmm okay, I see your point. But how often does that happen, a quoted but unintroduced paragraph within a quotation? To me, when I read it, the first thing that comes to mind by default is that it will be a continuating quotation mark; then the "J.R. answered" can correct that assumption if applicable. I have never experienced this as a problem, in any case less so than jumping right into an unmarked paragraph in a multiple-paragraph quotation. I suppose, in an extremely long one, a novel-sized frame story, I would not use this style, for the reason you mentioned. –  Cerberus Jan 4 '13 at 4:20
3  
@izkata, Cerberus: Besides, a quote within a quote would use single (or double) instead of double (or single) quotes; e.g. "When did John say 'Jim is right'?" –  H Stephen Straight Jan 8 '13 at 20:44

The rule is in place to allow for successive dialog. Two quoted paragraphs in succession with no end quotation mark in the first paragraph are a continued sentiment stated by one person that requires a paragraph break, whereas if there were an end quotation mark, the two paragraphs would be quotes said by different people.

Its primary purpose is in narratives, where, without such a rule, there would be no way to differentiate between the two.

share|improve this answer

It may have something to do with the archaic practise of: -

“Using a
“quotation mark at the
“beginning of every line
“of the quoted text. This
“practise was actually
“pretty commonplace during
“the Georgian and Victo-
“ian Eras.”

See, for example, this 1759 edition of The Monthly Review on Google Books. (cf. Wikipedia article)

share|improve this answer
1  
Welcome to ELU. You can see there are ways of getting Markdown to set short lines in a block of text. Can you provide links to or images of such printed text? –  Andrew Leach Jul 2 '13 at 5:58

protected by tchrist Jul 1 at 0:39

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.