When reading something that has a quote in the middle of it, is it proper to say "end quote" or "unquote" to signal the end of the quote? I've heard both ways.

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    Also "close quote" especially in programming circles. This is parallel to the use of "open" and "close" parenthesis, braces, and brackets. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Dec 23 '10 at 22:25
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    Someone tell me where I got "en quote" from, which is what I have thought it was my entire life....when my 11 year old told me it was unquote, I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. Did I have a bad instructor or something? – user7802 Apr 26 '11 at 2:24

Both are fine and have been used for decades, as far as I know. The OED on "unquote":

intr. Used as a formula in dictation, etc.: terminate the quotation. See quote v. 4c.

1935 E. E. Cummings Let. Mar. (1969) 139 But he said that if I'd hold up publication of No Thanks for 15 days he'd kill unquote a page of Aiken.

1935, etc. [see quote v. 4c].

1969 New Yorker 11 Oct. 48/2 Then Mr. Tanks announced the last downtown stop. He said, ‘Madison Square Garden, Penn Station+et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, unquote’.

The OED on "quote (v.)":


[4.]c. quote ... unquote: a formula used in dictation to introduce and terminate a quotation. Freq. transf., in speech or writing, introducing and terminating words quoted (or ironically imagined to be quoted) from the speech or writing of another.

1935 E. E. Cummings Let. 3 Oct. (1969) 145 The Isful ubiquitous wasless&-shallbeless quote scrotumtightening unquote omnivorously eternal thalassa pelagas or Ocean.

1950 ‘S. Ransome’ Deadly Miss Ashley xvii. 198 She says, quote, ‘What girl wouldn't?’ unquote.

1956 Times 5 Dec. 1/5 (Advt.), Today, America, you sure are quote in the Big Time unquote.

1958 B. Hamilton Too Much of Water xi. 245 But he did have, quote, a jolly good reason for bumping off one special person, unquote.

1961 P. Ustinov Loser viii. 140 He expressed the personal opinion that the picture was quote great for America unquote.

1973 D. Robinson Rotten with Honour 8 The British…see too many people like you in London.+ East Germans, Bulgarians, and Rumanians, all of them quote diplomats unquote

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Based on my experience:

  • If accompanied by air quotes, the term is definitely unquote.

  • If it's referring to the punctuation mark, end quote is definitely correct.

  • If it directly follows the word "quote", it's unquote. (In other words, the phrase is "quote unquote", not "quote end quote".)

  • In a formal context, if you must use the words (rather than using punctuation and formatting to mark quotations), stick to end quote.

Otherwise, either term is fair game.

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  • Magnificent answer. – The Raven Apr 17 '11 at 14:08

This question was the source of a heated debate with a friend so some additional research had to be done. We determined that both "end quote" and "unquote" co-evolved with the telegram (1861-1901) and the Dictaphone (1881-1907). (Dates are the approximate period of evolution from early implementation of the technology to first documented use of "end quote" or "unquote" associated with the technology.) Neither term existed before these technologies.

Western Union provided these instructions to secretaries, circa 1907:

"As punctuation-marks are neither counted nor sent except on written instructions to send them, these marks may be omitted, with the exception of the period and interrogation-point. But in important telegrams, where a direct quotation is to be transmitted, the safest method is to name the marks of punctuation, including the quotation-marks, as in the following example:

Insert in mortgage on page nine, end of first paragraph, these words quote in case of default in payment of the bonds comma...retain possession of the property period end quote.

The earliest examples we could find in print were in transcripts of official government telegrams circa 1901 and all of those examples were "end quote."

The earliest examples of "unquote" in print were also in transcripts of official government telegrams circa 1910 with the notable distinction that they were all trans-Atlantic telegrams.

It seems that two standards had evolved. "End quote" was being used in domestic telegrams and "unquote" was being used by the operators of the trans-Atlantic cables. Usage of both terms were approximately equal in rarity until the mid-1930's when there was a sudden up-tick in the volume of trans-Atlantic communication of an official nature due to the war. "Unquote" suddenly became much more common although "End quote" did not become less common than it had been. The combined usage of the two terms increased dramatically with nearly all of the new instances "unquote."

As a standard in telegrams, "end quote" definitely came first but it was completely supplanted by "unquote." When punctuation was spelled out for transmission, it was transmitted as written (in words rather than symbols) Based on the practice of charging by the word, "unquote" is one word cheaper to transmit. Both widespread exposure to cable operators during the war and the one-word cost economy may have influenced the switch. By 1954, a similar manual to business users as the 1907 instruction pamphlet advises the use of "unquote."

Both terms have lived on outside of their narrow functional purpose essentially interchangeable. "Unquote" is now far more common; "end quote" is a bit of an anachronism perhaps charming for that reason.

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  • Unquote also has the major advantage of being a word which would be unlikely to appear within quoted material. If instructed to change some text to QUOTE I THINK IT SHOULD END QUOTE, should the text include or not include the word "END"? Not sure if that's the main reason, since telegrams for whatever reason show transmission breaks the same as the word "stop" [what does "HE SHOULD STOP GOING TO VISIT HER" mean?], but it would seem a logical argument in favor of "UNQUOTE". – supercat Aug 1 '14 at 18:36

I've heard people say "unquote" but always assumed it was a corruption of end-quote. Wiktionary backs up this assertion. A quick search of the Corpus of Conteporary American English finds 288 instances of unquote near "quote", typically in a phrase such as

He was, quote, unquote, busy.

So unquote is definitely a word that people are using.

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  • I'm not sure how I'd punctuate "quote unquote", but I'm pretty sure there shouldn't be a comma within the phrase. Perhaps "He was --quote unquote-- busy." – Marthaª Dec 23 '10 at 8:35
  • @Martha: I copied the punctuation from the COCA. But I do like your way better. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 23 '10 at 14:00
  • @Rhodri: I agree. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 23 '10 at 14:01

In general, I have always heard "quote-unquote" used in direct sequence before a single word, often one which is being questioned. Example: He insists that low fat products are quote-unquote healthy!

Of course you would never actually write the "quote-unquote". It is for spoken word only. When writing you just put quotations around the word "healthy"

As for "quote" and "end quote", they are used around the body of an actual quotation.

He insists that quote low fat prooducts are the way to go for those trying to persue a healty diet. end quote

Here again, these things are never written, just used during spoken communication to clarify the part of the sentence which is a quotation.

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One cannot "unquote" a phrase or word if it is being quoted, unless of course you want to remove the word or phrase being quoted. Doesn't that make sense? To "seal" a quote, one must "end quote", or, "end of quote" which satifies and finalizes the context stated. The term "unquote" must have become common when it was accidently misconstrued with "end quote".

I value what my eighth grade teacher taught the lot of us upon a student "quoting" and "unquoting" something said that I've long forgotten. But I will always remember his lesson to be shared immediately there after on a quoted word or phrase...

If anyone can search historically where this term might have become transformed to it's hideous present (save many reporters and announcers on NPR), I would appreciate the info!

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