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Say I have a quote within a quote, and inside of the inner quote there is a sentence with a plural possessive, so that there is an apostrophe after the "s." How do I distinguish between the apostrophe acting as a plural possessive or the apostrophe acting as a single quote, ending the quote within the quote?

For example, you have an essay about Person A's writing:

Person A references the work of Person B, stating that "One example is the work of Person B, who writes that 'it is important to have a guys' night out.' Person B is mentioning the importance of a break." (88) Person A also...

How would one know that the apostrophe after the "s" in "guys'" isn't the end of the quote within the quote?

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    You know it from context. "It is important to have a guys" is not a proper sentence, so it's clear that the character is an apostrophe rather than an ending quote. – Barmar Nov 10 '15 at 21:48
  • @Barmar That's true in this particular case. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 10 '15 at 22:39
  • Wouldn't it have to be how you solve it in most cases? We don't have any typographic conventions to distinguish apostrophes from closing single quotes. – Barmar Nov 10 '15 at 22:40
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    There's no penalty for using double inverted commas for a quote, even when you didn't for the previous one. Style should defer to clarity. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 10 '15 at 22:41
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    If a word processor/typesetter is used that distinguishes single quotes from apostrophes then it's only necessary to become aware of that facility. Otherwise you decipher by context. – Hot Licks Mar 15 '16 at 19:35
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This is not really a question about English syntax or grammar. It’s more a matter of typographical style. But it points out how important style can be. Bad style can easily mislead the reader and make it necessary for them to go back and re-read.

In the original text, the reader can easily misread as quoted text the words “it is important to have a guys” or the words “night out”.

But if you invert the single and double quotes, it becomes much harder for the reader to be confused:

Person A references the work of person B, stating that ‘One example is the work of person B, who writes that “it is important to have a guys’ night out.” Person B is mentioning the importance of a break.’ (88) Person A also...

In the revised text, the punctuation is still technically ambiguous, but because of the distance between the single quotation mark used for apostrophe and the other single quotation marks there is little likelihood of confusion.

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