Errors bordering on speech reporting are among the commonest I come across. For example, I see things like these.
(1) “The police came and the “lady” soon turned out to be a man in disguise,” he said.
(2) “God’s time, she said, is the best.”
(3) “The Lord said to the prophetess, “tell my people to change their ways.”
Now let us take a close look at the matter of speech reporting.
Quotation marks, also known as inverted commas, are used for direct speech only. Do not use them for reported or summarised speech.
Correct: “Get moving,” the captain bawled.
Correct: The captain ordered his men to get moving.
Correct: “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.” Surat 1:1
You may use quotation marks to show that a particular word is stated as used in the original speech.
Correct: The manager told the workers he was going to “upgrade” them based on “longevity”.
You may also use the marks to show that a word is used technically, wrongly, as is so-called or commonly understood.
Correct: It’s a new process of doing business known as “merchandising”.
Correct: Anini, the “king” of the underworld, looked like a rain-beaten hen as he was tied to the stake to be sent on his final journey this morning.
Correct: The “autonomous” republic just had its elections vetoed.
Correct: Our “friends” from the tax office are here.
When a speech is interrupted by the writer, use the marks to break off the speech.
Correct: “God’s time,” she said, “is the best.”
Correct: “I am here,” he said. “I have come to take you home.”
Continuous speech should be placed within the same paragraph.
Incorrect: “I am here,” he said.
“I have come to take you home.
Correct: “I am here,” he said. “I have come to take you home.
Long speeches, however, may be broken up into paragraphs. When you break up a long speech into paragraphs, use the opening quotation marks on all the paragraphs but use the closing quotation marks only on the last paragraph.
A speech inside a speech must take its own quotation marks and as many marks must be closed as are opened.
Correct: “And the Lord went on speaking to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “In the seventh month, on the first month, there should occur for you a complete rest, a memorial by the trumpet blast, a holy convention.”’” Leviticus 23:23,24
Correct: “The police came and the ‘lady’ soon turned out to be a man in disguise,” he said.
Correct: The police came and the “lady” soon turned out to be a man in disguise.
Correct: “The Lord said to the prophetess, ‘Tell my people to change their ways.’”
Correct: “The Lord asked the prophetess to tell his people to change their ways.”
From the above examples, you can see the following points.
- Once direct speech is introduced the quotation marks are employed.
- Once the marks are opened, they must be closed.
- If you are using the double marks, marks inside the marks must be the single marks and vice versa.
- Every mark opened must be closed.
- There is visible space between adjacent single and double quotation marks. If your word processor does not do this automatically, add a space manually.
Note, also, that the single marks or the double marks are both accepted in speech reporting but the double marks are more commonly used nowadays and the single marks are discouraged, except where they are used within double marks as demonstrated earlier.
Correct: “Come to me,” she said.
Correct (but falling out of use): ‘Come to me,’ she said.
Some house styles adopt the single marks for summarised speech but this is not a common practice.