Quoting Correctly

A quotation is a written repetition of someone else’s words — just one word or a whole statement or passage. You see quotations in almost all writing: newspapers, magazines, novels, essays, letters, and so on. To get an idea how to identify a quotation, take a look at the following story:

One day, while Felonia was on her way to a music lesson, she gazed through a shop window at a gleaming grand piano. Her heart beating wildly at the thought of playing such a marvel, she neglected to look up when everyone around her began to shout. Seconds later, another piano — an upright, not a grand — came whizzing through the air. One of the movers had taken a bite of his tuna fish sandwich, allowing the piano to break loose from the ropes hoisting it to the third floor. The piano landed a mere inch away from Felonia. What did Felonia say?

She said that she was relieved.

This last sentence tells you about Felonia and her feelings, but it doesn’t give her exact words. It’s a report of someone’s ideas, but not a record of the words actually spoken or written. You can write exactly the same sentence if you heard Felonia say, “Thank God it missed me. My knees are shaking! I could have been killed.”

You can also write the same sentence if you heard Felonia say, “Tomorrow’s the big concert! What if it had hit me! I’m so glad it missed. Now I can play and become a star. Recording companies will come to me on bended knee, and my name will be all over the Internet. I’ll even be a guest on Letterman.

And of course, you can write the same sentence if you heard Felonia say, “I am relieved.”

As an observer, you can also record Felonia’s reaction by writing:

She said that she was “relieved.”

This account of Felonia’s reaction is a little more exact. Some of the sentence is general, but the reader knows that Felonia actually said the word “relieved” because it’s in quotation marks. The quotation marks are signs for the reader; they mean that the material inside the marks is exactly what was said.

Felonia said, “I am so relieved that I could cry.”
“I am so relieved that I could cry,” Felonia said.

These two sentences quote Felonia. The words enclosed by quotation marks are exactly what Felonia said. The only thing added is a speaker tag — an identifying phrase that tells you who said the words (in this case, Felonia). You can place the speaker tag in the beginning of the sentence or at the end. It can also land in the middle. The quotation marks enclose the words that were said or written.