Grammar Wednesday: Quoting a quote

I was writing, and I had a question. This is how I typically come up with finding grammatical rules to remember for the rest of my writing career. In my newest novel FOR BY GRACE, there is a character, Peter, who has a bad habit of quoting scripture when he’s drunk.

So, as a college student, I certainly know how to quote within a quote. It got confusing when it became a quote within a quote within a quote. Let’s start with the first though, shall we?

To quote dialogue there is always double quote marks to open and close the speech.

He said, “Why the hell did you do that?”

Simple enough, right? I actually ran into a beta recently that had single quotes, or single for one and double for another, and my most recent beta who didn’t put quote marks in at all. It gets a bit more confusing when you add in a quote within the quote. For that you have the double quotes for the person who is actually speaking and single quotes for what that person is saying. For example:

She replied, “Well, I was told to. She told me, ‘You go out there and be strong. You are smart, you are pretty and you are strong.'”

Single quotes within the double quotes, making sure to close everything out at the end of the dialogue so that it’s all complete. Simple enough. Now, here’s the complication I ran into. Peter is quoting Scripture in his own speech, which has dialogue in it. To resolve this, it’s double quotes for what Peter says, single quotes for the Scripture, then back to double for the dialogue in the Scripture (are you starting to see the pattern?). Here’s a sneak peek of the novel, too.

“Peter is the disciple. Peter makes the revelation. Peter is the child of God who follows Jesus.  ‘Jesus went out, with his disciples, into the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?”’” Peter paused.

Wow! Look at all those quote marks to close out all the quotes. It’s insane! I wouldn’t suggest going beyond what I did here, but as you might have guess it goes double, single, double, single, double, single until you’re done or don’t need anymore. If you have more than this, I suggest reworking the piece so you don’t need it. I even reworked a lot in this piece to get rid of a lot of the double and triple quote marks.

Keep it up, and remember to always edit!

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Graham Powell (@graham_powell)
    May 01, 2013 @ 12:47:08

    And just for fun, British usage is exactly the opposite. Single quotes for dialog, double for reported speech. Can get very confusing when reading Brit fic.

    Reply

  2. Susan
    May 01, 2013 @ 22:30:35

    My day job is proofreading appellate court opinions and we regularly have quotes within quotes within quotes. In long passages they stop and start so many times I actually have to go through it just counting quote marks — double, single, double, single, double, single — to make sure I have the right number of matching pairs. It does get a little insane. :)

    Reply

  3. Andrew Toynbee
    May 20, 2013 @ 08:48:33

    I would work around the problem a little. I have a few mixed quotes in ‘A Construct of Angels’ and try to avoid the above situation if I can.
    for your example, I might reword it slightly as;
    “Peter is the disciple. Peter makes the revelation. Peter is the child of God who follows Jesus. ‘Jesus went out, with his disciples, into the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?”’ Always something we should ask ourselves.” Peter paused.
    As I don’t have the passage to hand, I can’t add more, but I’d try to further split the single and double quotes by extending the scripture quote slightly.
    .
    Just a thought. :)

    Reply

    • Adrian
      May 20, 2013 @ 08:50:31

      Yeah. I did that on a few occasions but what you did really changed the tone of it. It’s hard to keep tone. I think that’s the only place with the triple quotes.

      Reply

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