When single quotes are used for quotations, does everything flip?

I’m getting mixed answers from colleagues so I thought I’d send this to the true experts—Dopers.

I have an agency-specific style manual that mandates single quote marks be used for direct quotations (double quotes for quotes-within-quotes). What do I do with things that I’d normally use single quotes for (e.g. scare quotes)? Keep using single quotes or go into bizarro world where everything is flipped?

Your use of single quotes for “scare quotes” is non-standard. You should use single quotes for that if that’s the house style.

The primary agency’s rule is to use double quotes only for direct quotations, hence the use of single quotes as words-as-words. The present situation is that we’re writing a book for the agency, which is publishing it under a particular organization’s imprint. That organization is the one with the style manual that uses single quote marks for quotations.

I’d buck this up the ladder to someone with the authority of sitting down with both parties and getting a ruling. If you decide this for yourself you’ll get it from both ends.

And if this weirdness is true in the style manual I’d bet that many other oddities appear. You or someone need to go through it all and make a definitive list and get rulings on everything. You’ll annoy someone high up by forcing them to do this, but compared to the alternative…

As it happens, I am the fucking hall monitor.

No, really. As it stands, I have final decision-making authority for this publication. I just want to be sure I make the best decision.

Personally, I would flip the quotes. I normally use double quotation marks for both quotations and so-called “scare quotes.” If, for some reason, I need to use scare quotes within something that is already set off by quotation marks, I use the single quote. It just looks jarring to me otherwise. Quotations-within-quotations flip the marks, according to most style guides I’ve seen. I don’t see any good reason to treat scare quotes differently.

So, yes, I would absolutely use double quotation marks within material that is quoted with single quotations marks.

So, for example, if your question is how I would punctuate something like:

Bob said

(With “success” being used in some ironic manner.)

If I understand you correctly, you use single quotes normally for quotations, and single quotes as scare quotes, right? At least for this client? I would write:

Bob said, 'I am happy to report the meeting was a “success.” ’

or in my usual style that uses double quotes:

Bob said, "I am happy to report the meeting was a ‘success.’ "

In either case, I would flip the quotes on the inside. In my opinion, it helps clarity and avoids confusion. It may even be more evident if the scare quote is being used in mid-sentence, where there can be even more confusion as to what is being used to end a quotation and what is being used to signal a scare quote.

Ugh. You poor bastard.

I agree that consistent flipping is the best option.

Just out of curiosity, are they using full British style where the punctuation is outside of the quotes or just the reversal of the usual numbers?

How about double single quotes for “scare quotes,” or is that too ‘‘out there?’’

Hmm… it would depend if your font makes them look significantly different than double quotes.

Or how about slanted single quotes for `scare quotes´ (alt+0096, 0180)? Or flippety ‘quotes’? (alt+0145,0146).

Again, depending on the font, these other types of quotes can look very different, or hardly different.

So far, I (fortunately) haven’t had a problem within quotes. The question stems from sentences such as:

Logical frameworks show some variation from one agency to another—outcomes are sometimes termed ‘purpose’, some logical frameworks include ‘immediate objectives’ and ‘development objective’ and/or ‘goal’.


… (rather than the ‘business as usual’ scenario, which would have resulted in fossil fuel CO2 emissions).

I can’t really play around with fonts and the like–they’re also part of the style guide, albeit directed at the designer.

Oh, I completely misunderstood the question. I would use absolutely use single quotes–keep the style the same.

ETA: OK, wait. So normally you use double quotes for quotations and single quotes for scare quotes? That’s unusual to me. I’ve always used the same style for both, whether single or double quotes.

Go for a compromise such as staring quotes with a double quotation mark and ending them with a single, as they say "think outside the box’

The only exception I could think of is in linguistic cases where single quotes might be used in a double quotation mark style to talk about the word itself. I actually have no idea what single quotation mark styles do in this case. My instinct would be to reverse it, because there’s a reason for the distinction.

It goes back to the lead agency’s style guide:

So life was simple. Double quote marks for actual quotations, single quote marks for everything else. Tra la la la. The second style guide is specific about single quotes, but does not refer to anything else:

So, for the list of other things (themes of conferences, etc.), I need to either keep with single quotes or switch to double quotes.

Oof. Then I don’t know. Both ways are equally valid to me. I would have no problem with single quotes throughout, in both usages, as I usually keep them the same myself. But if you feel it is important to make a distinction between the two uses of quotation marks, I don’t think there is anything wrong with using the double quotes.

Have you considered triple quotes? Or guillmets?

I think of scare quotes as a type of speech quote. Scare quoted “x” is just “he said ‘x’, but the writer does not endorse that description”. I would make them the same as speech quotes for that reason.

For those interested in a moment of musing:

If you “‘surround’” a word with both single and double quotation marks, does it nullify the effect entirely?


Or… ‘“yes”’?

Tangent: The usual British style is single quotation marks for all dialogue, isn’t it? As in:

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ Charles Dickens told me.