When should you use italics to reference an example or quote, and when should it be inside apostrophes instead?

(I am trying to tighten up here. I write in advertising and we break so many rules with the register being conversational, I’ve fallen out of touch with some basics.)

Here are some examples:

  • A man said the other day, 'why are all the trees orange?'
  • A man said the other day, why are all the trees orange?

Also, should the above quote begin with a capital letter, and must there always be a comma preceding it?

  • Can you give an example? (Maybe in place of the 'shees'?)
    – J.R.
    Oct 5, 2012 at 7:51
  • This question does not have a definite right or wrong answer that can by supported by facts and argument. It is a matter of local style.
    – MetaEd
    Oct 5, 2012 at 15:29

2 Answers 2


In books, you often see the italics used to distinguish when something is said mentally, instead of out loud. Sometimes italics are also used for flashbacks.

In advertising, I suppose you could use italics to make people ponder the quote more, irrespective of whether the quote is said out loud, or only thought internally.

Oakland A's fan: This is going to be your year.

In the first of your two examples, the first part ("A man said the other day") and the second part ("Why are all the trees orange?") get treated "evenly" by the human eye, and the quotes "clutter" the visual.

In the second example, the eyes are drawn toward the italics, and the first part seems more incidental. I can see why advertisers would prefer this format.

In general, I think the quote should begin with a capital letter. As I showed in my example, there should be punctuation before the "quote" – but it needn't always be a comma.

  • Thank you. If it needn't be a capital letter, what would it be? Oct 5, 2012 at 8:10
  • It should be a capital letter most of the time. However, as you inferred, in the context of advertising, grammatical rules can be broken for the sake of visual appeal. For example, some years ago, and American company ran an ad campaign with this tagline: if you want to capture someone's attention, whisper. In that case, an agency might decide to skip the upper-case "I" in "if" to keep the entire quote diminutive.
    – J.R.
    Oct 5, 2012 at 8:22
  • Thank you JR. You also mentioned that it needn't be a comma. If so, what else could it be? Oct 5, 2012 at 8:27
  • What's in the example? I suggest reading about where you can use a colon on this page
    – J.R.
    Oct 5, 2012 at 8:39

The conventional norm for your examples would be to write the following:

A man said the other day, "Why are all the trees orange?"

Neither single quotes nor italics would be used. Single quotes are used for nested quotations, such as

Sarah began her joke. "A man said the other day, 'Why are all the trees orange?'"

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