Double vs single quotation marks, for the EU/UK English market.
Thread poster: Michael Beijer

Michael Beijer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:50
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Sep 13, 2011

I am a Dutch-English translator working primarily for Dutch and Belgian agencies, and am almost always asked to write in UK English.

Some of my British friends tell me I should use double quotation marks, or 'inverted commas', as they call them.

They point to, e.g., & – which both use double.

... However, I was under the impression that I was supposed to stick to single, as per:



The English Style Guide of the European Commission Directorate-General for Translation:


Double vs single quotation marks. Use single quotation marks to signal direct
speech and verbatim quotes, and double quotation marks for quotations within
these. You may also use single quotation marks to identify words and phrases
that are not themselves quotes but to which you wish to draw attention as
lexical items.

I know that basically it is most likely just a matter of personal preference, as long as you are consistent.

The author at has this to say on the matter:

Henry Fowler (Fowler's Modern Usage) claimed that starting with double quotation marks "is clearly less reasonable" (591), but he did not expect the single then double sequence, which he preferred, to maintain its primacy:

. . . as quotation within quotation is much less common than the simple kind, and conspicuousness is desired [for the more common simple quotation], the heavy double mark is the favourite. (591)

At present, even many who follow British usage conventions for other forms of punctuation will use the double mark as their basic form for quotations.

What does your own personal 'style guide' dictate?


Barbara Carrara  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:50
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
Quoting the OGS Sep 13, 2011

Here's what The Oxford Guide to Style says about it.

Quotation marks, also called 'inverted commas', are of two types: single and double. British practice is normally to enclose quoted matter between single quotation marks, and to use double quotation marks for a quotation within a quotation:

'Have you any idea', he said, 'what "dillygrout" is?'

This is the preferred OUP practice for academic books. The order is often reversed in newspapers, and uniformly in US practice:

"Have you any idea," he said, "what 'dillygrout' is?"

If another quotation is nested within the second quotation, revert to the original mark, either single-double-single or double-single-double. When reproducing matter that has been previously set using forms of punctuation differing from house style, editors may in normal writing silently impose changes drawn from a small class of typographical conventions, such as replacing double quotation marks with single ones, standardizing foreign or antiquated constructions, and adjusting final punctuation order. Do not, however, standardize spelling or other forms of punctuation, nor impose any silent changes in scholarly works concerned with recreating text precisely, such as facsimiles, bibliographic studies, or edited collections of writing or correspondence.


Edited to add that in Italian, for instance, double quotation marks are the norm, and for a quotation within a quotation, we use the double-single-single-double format (".... ... '... .....' ..... ......").

[Edited at 2011-09-13 18:06 GMT]


United Kingdom
Local time: 15:50
+ ...
double, single, double Sep 14, 2011

My default is "double, single, double", because that's what I was taught at school, although some clients insist on "single, double, single" so I've had to adapt.


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Double vs single quotation marks, for the EU/UK English market.

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