There are many times, especially in college-level writing, when you work with the words of others. There are two basic ways that you can present what others have said: (1) You can quote a person directly, using his. or her exact words, or (2) you can quote indirectly, expressing the person’s thoughts in your own words. An indirect quote is also called a paraphrase.

A direct quote is a presentation of the exact words that someone used. An indirect quote is a description of what was said.

Here is an example of a direct quote:

(a) In a review of Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, critic David Ansen said, “Anyone bemoaning the disappearance of adult matter from the movies need look no farther.”

In (a), the writer is choosing to use the exact words that Ansen used in his review. To show that, the writer must enclose what Ansen said within a set of double quotation marks (“). Notice that the word Anyone is capitalized. The first word of a direct quote is usually capitalized. (We’ll discuss an exception later.)

Below, the writer is choosing to quote Ansen indirectly:

(b) In a review of Hannah and Her Sisters, critic David Ansen said that anyone who’s complaining that adult subject matter has disappeared from the movies doesn’t have to look beyond this Woody Allen movie.

Sentence (b) contains an indirect quote, which is also called a paraphrase. In (b), the writer does not use Ansen’s exact words but does communicate Ansen’s point. When you quote someone indirectly, remember that you still must give the person credit. That’s why Ansen’s name is used in (b) just as it was in (a).

Punctuating direct quotes

In addition to using double quotation marks before and after a person’s exact words, you also have to learn to use the correct punctuation to set off the attribution part of the sentence. This is the part that tells who said it; for instance, he said and she remarked are attributions. Often you use a comma to set off an attribution, sometimes you use a colon, and occasionally you use no punctuation at all.

1. Using a Comma

If the attribution is simply a subject and a verb or verb phrase, use a comma after it. Study these correct examples, in which only a subject and verb appear in each attribution.

She said, “______________.”

He commented, “______________.”

They insisted, “______________.”

An s-v attribution can also appear at the end of the sentence; in other words, it may follow the direct quote. When the attribution is in this position, use a comma before it. Look at these correct examples:

“______________,” said Barbara.

“______________,” commented the captain.

“______________,” they insisted.

When it’s appropriate, an attribution can even interrupt a direct quote. For instance, a writer might choose to structure a sentence this way:

“Just once this week,” James suggested, “let’s try to get through an entire evening without turning on the television.”

In such sentences, the attribution is set off with two commas. Make sure to enclose each part of the quote within a set of double quotation marks. Use a period and a capital letter only if each of the two sections is a full sentence. This is a correct example:

“He doesn’t know what to do,” my mother said. “He’s completely confused.”

2. Using a Colon

If the attribution contains a subject complement or a direct object, use a colon after it. Study these examples and label each with s, v, sub com, and do.

The waiter gave us some advice: “______________.”

She said only three words: “______________.”

The lawyer issued one warning: “______________.”

3. Using No Punctuation

Occasionally, no punctuation is used directly before a direct quote. Here are two correct examples:

Jack Kroll, the well-known critic, called Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, and Jimmy Stewart a “celluloid Mount Rushmore of American icons.”

A Washington Post reviewer once wrote that novelist Gloria Naylor’s talent “glows like beaten copper.”

Because of the way the quoted material is worked into the sentence, the first word of the direct quote is not capitalized, nor is the quote set off with a comma or colon.