1. When writing, for example,

“The answer to this question has to be ‘yes’.”

However, here quotes are used for the first part of the sentence, thus making “yes” surrounded by double quotes (if correct).

  1. When writing, for example,

    Because the rhetorical question must be answered “no.”

    is it correct to put “no” in quotes?

  • I think I've formatted this correctly. However, it's not clear what your question actually is, particularly in (1).
    – Andrew Leach
    Feb 25 '15 at 22:20
  • A rhetorical question that must be answered seems more a contradiction in terms than an oxymoron. Feb 25 '15 at 22:41

In the case of very short words or phrases that might otherwise appear as nested quotations (quotations within quotations), you have the option of italicizing the nested wording—at least in situations where such wording isn't a quotation at all but simply a word or phrase standing for itself. In your examples, this is how the treatment would look:

“The answer to this question has to be yes.”


Because the rhetorical question must be answered no.

It is certainly not wrong to use nested quotation marks as you do in the original example 1 or lone quotation marks around a single word as you do in the original example 2. But some style guides—including the Chicago Manual of Style, fifteenth edition (2003)—recommend using either italics:

6.73 Indirect one-word question. When a question within a sentence consists of a single word, such as who, when, how, or why, a question mark may be omitted and the word is sometimes italicized. [Cross reference omitted.]

[Relevant example:] The question was no longer how but when.

or no special styling at all:

11.44 Single-word speech. Words such as yes, no, where, how, and why, when used singly are not enclosed in quotation marks except in direct discourse. [Cross reference omitted.]

[Relevant example:] Ezra always answered yes; he could never say no to a friend.

in such situations.


Quotation marks are not only used when someone actually says something, but are also used to indicate that we are talking about the word itself, rather than the object it refers to. For example if you were doing a word search you would write:

I am looking for "rabbit".

Whereas if you were hunting you would write:

I am looking for rabbit.

Nobody has to say the word for these to be correct.

Because the answer to the question is the word "no" (see, I had to use quotes there!) the second sentence needs quotes.

  • Sadly, your style has misled the enquirer: 'the second sentence needs quotes.' Though I wouldn't treat CMOS as infallible, it's better (a lot better) than nothing most of the time. 'Needs' is far too prescriptive. Nov 26 '15 at 12:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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