How Do You Quote a Quote?

Whether you’re penning a short story or writing a research paper, you may come across a situation where you need to quote another quotation. Although this scenario may feel intimidating, there’s no need to fear! Quoting another quote can be easy, both in academic writing and informal prose. 

First, let’s look at two examples of quoted quotations. Then, we’ll break down the elements within these examples.

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Example One—A Short Quotation

“I couldn’t believe my ears when the professor said, ‘You’re getting an A,’” Tim admitted.

Example Two—A Long Quotation

In “Text Messaging in the Modern Age,” Frances Brown argues:

The exact words don’t matter, and neither does punctuation. If you can replace a lengthy original quote with an emoji, do it. In the words of Instagram star Kristen Wilson, “Semicolons are for suckers. Proofreading won’t get you more likes.” As a result, the fundamental rules of grammar may look very different ten years from now. If Wilson and her contemporaries continue to influence the culture at large, American grammar may evolve at a faster rate than ever before, thanks to online usage. (127) 

An Analysis of the Quotes Above

To begin, both of the made-up examples above are written in American style, rather than English style. Since we’re based in the U.S., we’ll be discussing the American grammar rules in this analysis. 

In the first example, Tim (Q1) quotes a professor (Q2). The quote within the quote is: “You’re getting an A.” Those words come from the professor (Q2), not from Tim (Q1). As a result, they appear surrounded by single quote marks. On the other hand, the words that Tim says are surrounded by double quotes. Since this example is informal, there’s no need for additional citations. 

Now, let’s say the professor spoke in an enthusiastic way. You might rewrite the internal quotation (Q2) with an exclamation mark instead: 

“I couldn’t believe my ears when the professor said, ‘You’re getting an A!'” Tim admitted. 

Since question marks and exclamation marks are considered stronger than periods and commas, they dominate. The placement of the exclamation mark or question mark depends on the context. If the speaker (Q1) is using the punctuation, rather than the person being quoted (Q2), the exclamation point or question mark would go between this single quotation and the double quotation marks.

For example:

Barry asked, “Did the professor really say, ‘You’re getting an A’?” 

In the second example, the quotation is longer than four lines. For this reason, the entire text from Frances Brown is indented. Offsetting a long quotation with an indent is referred to as a “block quote.” Within the block quote, Brown quotes someone else. That secondary quotation is marked with a set of double quotation marks. 

Note that the page number is included as an in-text citation at the end of the block quote. In this case, a citation is needed because the excerpt appears to come from a formal text. 

Imagine a scenario where an additional quotation (Q3) is nested inside the secondary quote (Q2). In that case, the quotation marks would begin to alternate between single quotation marks and double quotes. Frances Brown’s words (Q1) would still not need quotation marks because they are presented within a block quote. The words of Kristen Wilson (Q2) would appear within double quotes. Any person or book she quoted (Q3) would appear within single quotes. 

How Do You Paraphrase Something?

When you’re paraphrasing, we recommend using merely 10% of the source material or less. Instead of quoting someone else, you’d include a summary of their thoughts rewritten in your own words with an in-text citation that acknowledges the original source material. The punctuation is much easier with a paraphrase because you don’t have to worry about quoted material or complicated rules about punctuation marks. As long as you’ve rephrased the subject matter in your own unique wording, you’ll simply need to write an in-text citation based on the style guide of your choice. 

For instance, if you’re writing in MLA style, you should follow a paraphrase with a parenthetical citation that includes the author’s last name and page numbers, like this: (Batton 921-922). A reader can turn to your Works Cited page to find a reference list with more information about Batton’s text. Remember, APA, MLA, and Chicago Manual all provide their own unique citation styles. Be sure to select a single style and stick to the same guidelines throughout your text. 

What If You’re Quoting Something in a Foreign Language?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA) Style Blog, “…Place the foreign-language quotation in quotation marks if it is less than 40 words long and in a block quotation without quotation marks if it is 40 words or more.” Chelsea Lee, the blogger for the APA Style Blog, goes on to explain, “After the foreign-language quotation, place an English translation of the quotation in square brackets.” Be sure to place the bracketed translation after the closing quotation mark and punctuation. 

As you can imagine, if you had nested quotes within the quotation, you would include those quotes within the brackets, too. Since your translation of the original quote (TR Q1) does not require quotation marks, you’ll simply place double quotes around the translation of the internal quotation (TR Q2).

In this way, you can quote from a foreign-language text without having to track down an English-language source document. Of course, this only works if you’re fluent in the foreign language! 

Best of luck quoting, paraphrasing, translating, and citing your sources. When in doubt, be sure to check with your favorite style guide.