I'm editing the autobiography of a German-American woman who grew up during Hitler's reign. There are several instances where she uses quotation marks in a way that I'm not sure is correct.

1. Life has a way of taking unexpected turns, or as a German saying goes, "Der Mensch denkt, Gott lenkt."

Is it correct to use quotation marks around the saying in this instance? She's not actually speaking it. Should it be italicized?

2. However, when I told them I was pregnant, I was out the door. "We cannot have a pregnant woman stand behind the counter and serve our clients. How would that look?" I was devastated.

Obviously, these quotes are paraphrased and not verbatim words in a direct quote, and they stand alone within the paragraph. The speaker is not identified. I'm thinking the best remedy is to rewrite these sentences and describe what was said instead of treating what was said as quotes.

3 Answers 3


As you have already explained in the text that it is a saying, I would just italicise it and put a dash in front, I think that would look nice and be easy to read, like this: Life has a way of taking unexpected turns, or as a German saying goes ~Der Mensch denkt, Gott lenkt - God proposes, man disposes.

I would include the meaning in English as well - otherwise it's meaningless to non German speaking readers.

The second one - I would keep the quotes - it makes the moment more dramatic and interesting, like it's happening now, and we, the readers are standing there in the shop, as viewers - I actually saw the whole scene in my imagination, as if I was there - and that's a good thing!

I would not italicise it, just leave as is.

It might help to have some kind of break between the quote and 'I was devastated'. A dash, or put 'I was devastated' all on its own on the next line. It's a dramatic moment - so give the reader a moment to feel - that devastation. By putting space around it.


However, when I told them I was pregnant, I was out the door! "We cannot have a pregnant woman stand behind the counter and serve our clients. How would that look?"

...I was devastated.

I added an exclamation mark, to heighten the expression of surprise. And a few dots to show that - she gasped, inwardly. An internal... pause.

If it's just reported speech it's always much drier. For example 'the accused drove away in a cortina' is much more boring than 'open the door, John, we have to get away now!'

It is also more engaging, interesting, and real, to readers when their minds must do something to imagine the situation - so, make them do some work - it's good for them! - rather than the data being served to them on a tin tri-partate plate!

I found this useful link in a related question. It talks about how the usage of quotation marks has changed in this century and explains how different mores currently apply for italicisation in novels and newspapers. Coming from the background of typesetting really. https://brians.wsu.edu/2016/05/19/quotation-marks/

  • Thank you so much for the input, Jelila. She did include the English version, I just didn't go that far with my example. I like the way you wrote the whole line to include the English version. I'll take a look at the link. Jan 28, 2018 at 5:35
  • You're welcome Shelley @ShelleyWynn 😊
    – Jelila
    Jan 29, 2018 at 7:36

In your examples, the use of quotation marks is not a grammar issue but a style one. I'd give the author some leeway.

In the first example of a German proverb, the author's intent is to have the reader "speak" in their minds what the saying sounds like. In general, Italic text denotes foreign speech, but it could be used for other reasons, such as to give the impression of accentuating a word or phrase. It is obvious in your example that the words are in a foreign language. Putting them in quotes makes them stand out in a way that is important to the author.

In the second example of the paraphrased conversation, the author wants to give the impression of this is what she heard. Putting the paraphrase in quotes gives the fragment a voice of its own. This example in particular I feel it's perfect just the way it is. It would be a mistake to change it.

  • Thank you, Stu. I appreciate your input and what you say makes sense. It's sometimes easy to get stuck wondering whether something is a style issue or a grammar issue. I'm pretty new at this and I'm often afraid I'm breaking some rule when there actually isn't one to begin with. Jan 28, 2018 at 5:43

Both your examples are quotations. The first may be vaguely attributed, but it is still a quote.

I understand that a lot of people like italicisation instead of q.m. for some things, seeing it as “modern”, but just yesterday I was reading (I believe on the Writers SE site) advice against such use of variant formatting.

I will look for something to link to when I'm a little more awake.


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