GrammarPhile Blog

Question: Straight or Curved Quotes?

Posted by Conni Eversull   Sep 14, 2010 5:30:00 AM

We receive lots of grammar and punctuation questions from customers and visitors to our site. This week, I thought I'd post a question we received about quotations along with Phil Jamieson's answer. In coming weeks, I'll post some of the other questions we've received along with their answers.

I hope you find this helpful!

As a reminder, we're happy to answer your questions relating to business writing, proper grammar, punctuation, etc. Click here to send your question to our grammar experts!

Today's question is from a customer who had questions about changes we made to quotation marks in her documents.


Is there a difference between using straight quotes   (" ") and curved quotes (“ ”)? ProofreadNOW has, in the past, changed my curved quotes to straight, and I’m just wondering why that is (and how to do straight quotes myself!).


We generally want to make sure quote marks are consistent. In documents we sense are not destined for email or posting on a web page, we endeavor to make the quote marks curly (a.k.a. 'smart'). This means they curve one way or the other depending on if they are left or right (beginning of quotation or ending of quotation).
You only have one kind of quote mark on your keyboard. That's because in ASCII, there's only one character for a quote mark. To make these marks curve one way or the other, various display mechanisms use control characters to alter them. Trouble is, in email or on some web browsers, those control characters mess things up. That's why every now and then you get an email with weird characters throughout - and if you notice, they're before and after quoted material, or where an apostrophe is supposed to be shown. Control characters are also used for trademark symbols and other special symbols for which there is no keyboard equivalent, and so sometimes you see those messed up too.
That's why we endeavor to make the marks in email and web docs straight, or 'dumb.' Straight marks are plain ASCII characters and are not confusing to web browsers and email servers. Microsoft Word has a setting to make quote marks smart by default. That means that when you type a quote mark and then a word with no space in between, MS Word will make it a left quote mark (curly). And when you type a word and a quote mark with no space, Word will make it a right quote mark.
You can straighten the mark out if you want: as soon as you hit the mark, hit a control-Z and it will be straightened out. That's because the control-z (Microsoft's 'undo' command) undoes the command to make the straight mark curly. Of course if you hit it again, it will remove (undo the typing of) the quote mark itself. (Control-z undoes whatever command was just done. Repeated Control-Z's undo previous commands, one before the other.)
Try it. Go into a Word doc, hit the quote mark and see it turn curly (in less than a blink of the eye). Then hit the control-z and watch it go straight.
If we have made marks straight in non-email docs, it was because we sensed an overall pattern of straight marks and made the curly ones consistent.


Topics: quotations, business writing, punctuation, grammar

Subscribe to Email Updates

Sign up for our emails!

Sign Up

Search Our Blog

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all