What is the proper way to include a single character within a sentence, double quotation marks, single quotation marks, or italicize it?

For example, should it be:

The man's face resembled a "V."


The man's face resembled a 'V.'

or italicize it like so:

The man's face resembled a V.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Edwin Ashworth, anongoodnurse, Drew, Misti, p.s.w.g Jan 26 '15 at 17:25

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  • @tchrist Can the UMD tag be used here? It's part of the answer really. – Kris Nov 1 '14 at 4:39
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    @SrJoven I wonder why you think this is a grammar-based site. – tchrist Nov 1 '14 at 5:35
  • @SrJoven And what the Q has to do with writers, not language. – Kris Nov 1 '14 at 5:39
  • You could say 'The man's face was V-shaped'; in this context you definitely don't need any quotes or italics. – Rand al'Thor Nov 1 '14 at 12:01
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    @tchrist OK, why is this a question for English Language and Usage? The question is explicitly how to punctuate or distinguish something in writing, which is not so much "English Language" than "Writing style". For instance, is the question generic enough that the style might be the same regardless of idiom? That is a question that I'd find interesting. But it has as much to do with English as asking what font/typestyle is more appropriate. Which is essentially the question being asked. – SrJoven Nov 1 '14 at 15:39

I don't think there's a rigorously correct answer; it seems like a matter of author's preference, or a matter for the style guide for the intended publication.

That said, I would choose "V", because I think the quotation marks are the clearest way to emphasize that the "V" is meant as the shape of the letter, not an abbreviation or other usage. Exceptions include widely used terms such as I-beam and U-turn, which don't include quotation marks. (Normally terms would be presented in quotation marks in the context where I wrote them, but I omitted the quotation marks there to emphasize that they are not part of the terms themselves.)

An obvious point is that one should be consistent with whatever usage you choose.

Finally, it seems that the usual outermost level of quotation marks in many countries is single quotes, in contrast to US preference for double quotes.

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