This is a sentence that I wrote:

In the text, words such as greenbacks, ironclads, and blockade were used.

However, I think there should be quotations around the words. How would I place them? Would I include the commas in the quotations?

Also, would the word greenbacks need to be Greenbacks?

  • 1
    There are a number of ways of doing what you ask about. I suggest that you put the three words in italics, and then there's no quotation-marks problem. "In the text, words such as greenbacks, ironclads, and blockade were used."
    – user21497
    Commented May 19, 2013 at 13:34
  • @BillFranke Although there's still the question of whether to italicize the commas. Most style guides gloss over small details like that, but typographers care about it. My understanding is that you mix punctuation with italics and boldface much the same as you use it with American-style quotation marks. Commented May 19, 2013 at 13:42
  • 1
    It's a style-manual question then. In biomed journals, sometimes the following punctuation is in the same font, & sometimes it's not: e.g., "Vol. 94, p. 143" vs. "Vol. 94, p. 143", or "2006, 94, 143" vs. "2006, 94, 143". It's just aesthetics unless the manual requires one form or other. I usually leave that stuff up to the copy editors. They have to do something to earn their keep.
    – user21497
    Commented May 19, 2013 at 13:46

1 Answer 1


You are correct that it's appropriate to visually distinguish when you're mentioning a word as a word instead of using it for its meaning. This is called the use-mention distinction.

Quotation marks or italics are appropriate for making the distinction. If you're using a style guide, look for “use-mention distinction” or “words as words” to see what it recommends. The style guide will also explain what kind of quotation marks to use and where to put the commas.

If you're not working with a style guide, there are general guidelines you can follow. The main concern is placement of trailing commas and periods. There are two common approaches, often called typesetters' style and logical style.

Typesetters usually italicize trailing commas and periods for aesthetic reasons:

In the text, words such as greenbacks, ironclads, and blockade were used.

Traditionally, they also put trailing commas and periods inside of quotation marks because of the mechanics of movable type. Most (but not all) writing in the US still follows this tradition:

In the text, words such as “greenbacks,” “ironclads,” and “blockade” were used.

Elsewhere, quotations usually follow a logical rule instead, putting commas and periods outside the quotation marks unless they're part of the quotation:

In the text, words such as “greenbacks”, “ironclads”, and “blockade” were used.

Also, as an Oxford Dictionaries article notes, British English usually uses single quotation marks:

In the text, words such as ‘greenbacks’, ‘ironclads’, and ‘blockade’ were used.

As for greenbacks: It's not a proper noun, so only capitalize it where you'd capitalize a common noun, like the beginning of a sentence.

  • @RegDwighт Thanks for the feedback. I reintroduced detail from an earlier draft and reorganized the examples to show a progression from preferred US styles (because this is tagged american-english) to alternative styles, with explanations of the differences between them. Commented May 20, 2013 at 0:14
  • Yes, British English would tend to use single quotation marks for this, so: "In the text, words such as 'greenbacks', 'ironclads', and 'blockade' were used." - note the use of double quotes (speech marks) around the whole sentence (but only because I am quoting!). Great answer Bradd.
    – Sam
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 22:18

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