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Showcased Nouns: Attention, Inflection, and Quotation

Nouns As a college student, time and time again you will depend upon showcased nouns, noun phrases and noun clauses in your reading and writing. By “showcased,” I simply mean that one or more words are showcased in order to draw a reader's special attention:

  • examination of individual words or phrases (e.g., “The word 'unkempt' has no opposite form.”);
  • special inflection of individual words or phrases (e.g., “I'm not lying. I did see a wolf!”)
  • foreign words and phrases (e.g., “She possessed a certain je ne sais quoi.”);
  • dialogue and quotations (Detective Sanders stated,“We don't know why the note reads, 'The butler did it,' but we aim to."
  • titles (e.g., “The Waste Land”; Star Wars: Episode VII).

Showcasing Words and Phrases

Whenever you single out one or more words for examination, figuratively speaking, you're holding up a magnifying lens and focusing a beam of rhetorical light onto them. This may, at first, sound like an unusual concept, but, actually, we do it all the time in a grammar course. We can't really discuss what the word “verb” means unless we single it out and treat it as though it's a thing to examine close-up. A verb may be a word of action, but the word “verb” is a noun. There's the key! In order to showcase the word “verb,” we put it into the context of being a thing. That context is signaled by the explicit or implicit use of words and phrases such as

  • definition (What's the definition of “sesquipedalian”?)

  • derivation (The derivation of “hyperbole” is related to the word “devil.”)

  • expression (The expression, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” is Shakespearean.)

  • idiom (I've used the idiom, “flattened pink,” all my life.)

  • meaning (“Sesquipedalian” means “in the manner of a fussy writer or speaker.”)

  • naming or nicknaming (He was affectionately called “Peanut” by his closest friends.)

  • phrase (The phrase “as it were” can be annoying if overused.)

  • pronunciation (Why are “through” and “rough” pronounced so differently?)

  • term (Programmers use the term “syntax” in the same way grammarians do.)

  • usage (Using “gay” as a synonym for “unpopular” is prejudicial.)

  • word (The word “like” can be five different parts of speech.)

And so on. In all these case, the words being showcased are put in quotation marks, and in all these cases the words in quotation marks are nouns—subject nouns, object nouns, noun complements, or appositive nouns, but nouns nonetheless.

Diagramming Showcased Words and Phrase

Because they are used in context as nouns, showcased words and phrases occupy the same place as nouns on a sentence diagram.

Singling Out a Word
The Merriam Webster Unabridged Dictionary on-line
defines the transitive verb "define" in six different ways.

Singling Out a Word

In the example above, the word “define,” which is ordinarily a verb, is used in this sentence as an appositive noun, which is why it goes in parentheses next to the noun “verb.”

I should come clean with you about those quotation marks. On the subject of sentence diagramming, purists would never put punctuation anywhere on a diagram. It's a bit like drawing a floor plan of a house and including the hinges on the doors. However, some exceptions should be made for the sake of the learning-curve involved, and, occasionally, students need to see how punctuation works in the same manner as parts of speech. (Another important example of this is the semi-colon, which abstractly represents a coordinating conjunction.) I've included the quotations marks in these diagrams strictly to illustrate how these noun phrases work as things singled out from the grammar surrounding them.

Singling Out a Phrase
The term "living fancy-free” is an expression meaning,
“live without responsibilities,” and was first used in 1590.
A.Phrase A
Phrase B

In this example, I've offered two different versions of the same sentence diagram: Diagram “A” demonstrates the straightforward, practical placement of each noun phrase in one position on a horizontal line; Diagram “B” takes the unnecessarily fussy approach to further diagramming them as verbal phrases (one of them a gerund phrase and the other an infinitive phrase). You can see how nothing is to be gained by further deconstructing the phrases. In fact, if anything, mapping their parts of speech seems to complicate the matter unnecessarily. The salient point is, each of those sets of quotation marks are acting as things: i.e., nouns.

Special Inflection

Markers don't always turn words and phrases into nouns. As you've just witnessed, any time we put a word or phrase on exhibit, it requires a marker (quotation marks, to be exact). However, not everything put into markers is necessarily on exhibit. Sometimes words and phrase simply need emphasis.

"Emphasis" isn't the same as "exhibition." To emphasize words, you need a way to change their inflection. Taken literally, inflection is “an action resulting in a curve or bend.” In grammar, inflected words are torque to bring more weight of enunciation to them, and the voice changes pitch. Interrogative sentences (questions) are always recognizable to the ear because, even when they're not worded as questions, they're inflected to be questions:

“Wait, now—you did what to my mother's prized Azalea bushes?!”

As you can see from the example, the word “what” is bent, or torque, to bring more inflected weight onto it. Even in your mind, you changed the pitch of your voice to read it. This, too, is a kind of showcasing, but it requires italics, which signal to readers where the inflection goes. An easy way to remember this is, to "inflect" means to bend, and italics bend a little with the weight of emphasis.

Inflection is a powerful tool—sometimes too powerful. Newbies to the concept sometimes get carried away with it and bludgeon a sentence with inflection, in effect becoming control-freaks about how they want readers to “hear” their sentences. Consider this example:

The waitress pulled her ballpoint pen from her bun of hair and stared severely at her order pad: "Only one coupon per customer," she said. "One coupon, not four. Not one coupon between four, and not four coupons between one. So, which one of you cheapskates is going to be the lucky one not to pay for my kid's braces?"

Perhaps two or three instances of italics are warranted in the example above. The rest are unnecessary because the choice of words, itself, does enough to imply inflection. Try to bear this in mind whenever you use italics to emphasize words and phrases, and use the technique as sparingly as you would a strong spice in a recipe. And, remember, italics don't automatically make it a noun.

Diagramming Inflected Words and Phrases

Emphasis and inflected words receive no special attention in a sentence diagram, for their part of speech doesn't actually change, much less change into nouns. That tells us, using italics for inflection is strictly a rhetorical matter, not a grammatical one: the words don't suddenly change their parts of speech because they are inflected, as opposed to words and phrases showcased for closer examination, which are always nouns regardless of their literal usage.

Foreign Words and Phrases

Another instance in which markers don't magically transfigure other parts of speech into nouns is the use of italics to showcase foreign words and phrases. Whenever a foreign term—whether it's a single word or a phrase—is used in your writing in context, you showcase it with italics. By "in context,” I mean, the term is used for its intended meaning, rather than exhibited as a term of interest. (See above.) Consider, for example, the following two sentences:

Used In Context:
In his famous masterpiece, Michaelangelo rendered his subject standing
contrapposto so that David would seem caught in a moment of decision.

Showcased As a Term of Interest:
In figural art, "contrapposto" is a pose in which the face or torso
twists in one direction, and the body relaxes into another.

Showcased as a term of interest, the word "contraposition" is put on exhibit and defined, but, used in context, “contraposition,” is an adverb modifying “standing.” Only when the foreign term is used in context do you need to consider marking it in italics. For many, this is a source of confusion, because, after all, how foreign is “foreign”? Take, for instance, the word “etcetera,” which I'm pretty sure most English-speaking writers are familiar with. However, what about the Latin phrase, “et cetera”? Did you know “etcetera” came from the Latin “et cetera,” which translates, “and the rest”? One is a commonly used word of foreign spelling and derivation, while the other is an uncommon phrase in its original foreign language. The uncommon and foreign use of "et cetera" persuades us to put it in italics, but to leave the familiar "etcetera" unsullied by markers.

To complicate matters, some foreign terms have, through repeated use in our English language, become naturalized citizens of our lexicon, while others are used less frequently and reside in our vocabulary on a work visa, so to speak. This is something you'll have to determine on a case-by-case basis. Generally speaking, though, if you believe a foreign term will be recognized by your English speaking readers, it need not be italicized. A simple rule of thumb: if you can find it in an ordinary English dictionary, not italicized, it's acceptable for use without italics.

Regardless, you are permitted to accustom your readers to any foreign term by italicizing its first-time use, then not italicizing it with repeated subsequent use. If you are ever uncertain, it's better to err on the side of caution and italicize it. Here are a few examples of foreign words and phrases:

addendum  belles lettres 
ad hoc bon chance 
attaché carte blanche 
blasé c'est la vie 
café carpe diem 
camouflage cogito ergo sum 
canapé com si, com sa 
carte blanche de facto 
cliché et al 
cul-de-sac geschtalt
doppelganger glasnost 
dramatis personae je ne sais quoi 
en masse joie de vivre 
en route magna cum laude 
etcetera monsieur/messieurs 
exposé no bueno 
hors d'oeuvre nom de plume 
Kindergarten perestroika 
machismo post hoc 
mélange précis 
non sequitur provençale 
papier-mâché raison d'etre 
protégé recherché
quasi sans 
résumé se mangnifique
status quo  selah 
vice versa versus 

Diagramming Foreign Words and Phrases

In large measure, diagramming foreign words is no different than any other word: if they're nouns, they're diagrammed like nouns on horizontal lines; if they're adverbs, they're diagrammed on diagonals like most adverbs; etc. However, what to do with foreign phrases? Would you treat a phrase like “raison d'être” as though it's a single noun, or would you break it up? “Raison d'être” literally translates into “reason for being.” Both, the foreign phrase and the English phrase, consist of a noun modified by a prepositional phrase. Depending on whether or not you're comfortable with the native language of a foreign phrase, you have the option to treat it as one single part of speech, or treat it as a collection of words with their own parts of speech:

Diagramming Foreign Words

Dialogue and Verbatim Quotations

When they are needed to distinguish the voice of the writer from the voice of a borrowed sources, or to highlight the titles of shorter works, double quotation marks (not single) are required. This is the rule for standard American usage. INITIALLY, YOU ALWAYS USE DOUBLE QUOTATION MARKS. Single quotation marks are used only for nested quotes and titles. (See below.) These markers always come in pairs: an open quotation mark to let readers know where the quote starts, and a closed quotation mark to tell them where the quote ends.

Ostensibly, dialogue and borrowed quotes are things. We know this because we can frame the question about them using the question word “What?”: “What does the character say?” or “What does the author state?” An answer to the question, “What?” is a noun, so, simply put, verbatim quotations and dialogue are noun phrases and clauses. However, what's simply put into words is not always simply put into action. It all comes down to how the grammar of a quotation relates to the grammar of the sentence containing the quotation. Here are three different examples:

    1. Martin Heidegger argued that thinking begins with understanding the nature of reasoning: “reason, glorified for centuries, is the stiff-necked adversary of thought.”
    2. Claude Levi-Strauss writes, "Language is a form of human reason, which has its internal logic of which man knows nothing.”
    3. According to Emmanuel Levinas, we cannot know things “in their totality; an essential character of our perception of them is that of being inadequate.”

Example “A” is straightforward enough: the quote is not only a complete sentence, but it's separated from the independent clause that introduces it. Example “B” seems to posit the quotation as the object of the verb “writes.” Example “C” incorporates the quote into a noun phrase that begins with the word “things,” but the quote continues it by modifying “things” and adding additional statements, expanding the writer's sentence, as it were, into a compound-complex sentence. These different methods of incorporating verbatim quotations into our writing present different challenges of punctuation and diagramming.

Introducing Quotes Using a Colon [:]

Example “A” above uses a colon [:]. A colon always is used when an independent clause introduces a quotation. For example,

On learning to accept stigma, Alice Walker writes the following: “…I saw that it was possible to love it: that in fact, for all it had taught me of shame and anger and inner vision, I did love it.”

Quotes with a Colon

If you're inclined to diagram a sentence that uses a colon to introduce a quote, you should treat it like a compound sentence, where the colon implies a connection to another clause, either in the manner of a coordinating conjunction or in the style of a relative pronoun. If that confuses you, don't worry about; just treat the quote as a completely separate diagramming task.

Incorporating Quotes Using a Comma [,]

Example “B” above uses a comma instead of a colon. Commas are typically used to introduce a quotation by way of some word or expression, such as “said” or “asked” or any appropriate synonym for these words:

In "Once More To the Lake," a nostalgic E.B. White claims, "There had been no years between the ducking of this dragonfly and the other one—the one that was part of memory.”

Other typical words of expression include verbs such as the following:

  • argues
  • asks
  • counters
  • debates
  • implies
  • infers
  • insinuates
  • observes
  • offers
  • questions
  • reasons
  • reiterates
  • remembers
  • replies
  • responds
  • says
  • states
  • suggests

In such cases, the quotation takes the form of a noun clause: it becomes the object of one of these verbs. Noun clauses often (but not always) begin with noun clause markers, the most common of which is the word “that.” Because of this, you always have the option to replace the comma with a noun clause marker:

In "Once More To the Lake," a nostalgic E.B. White claims that "There had been no years between the ducking of this dragonfly and the other one—the one that was part of memory.”

Quotes with a Comma

This noun clause marker is the clue to how quotations that are introduced by a verb of expression and a comma would be represented on a sentence diagram: we don't put commas onto a diagram, but we do put noun clause markers on them, even when the markers are implied.

You can find more information about noun clauses and how to diagram them in the previous chapter, “Noun Phrases and Noun Clauses.”

Incorporating Quotes Without Any Punctuation

Example "C" in the section above offers an example of a quote incorporated without punctuation. We don't use punctuation to incorporate a quote if the quote isn't a noun clause. In these cases, the quote continues a clause or a phrase earlier in the sentence. This is the trickiest method for incorporating a quote into your sentence because it requires more attention to grammar, including pronoun and subject-verb agreement, pronoun reference, and possible modifying errors. The effect of this technique, however, is to blend your own words with the verbatim quotation:

Ann McClintock suggests Americans are often propagandized by "a systematic effort to influence people's opinions.”

A direct quote can be incorporated into the syntax of the sentence without the need for introductory punctuation. Note how smoothly the above quote fits inside the sentence, and how awkwardly it goes inside the following sentence:

Ann McClintock suggests Americans are often propagandized by "Propaganda is a systematic effort to influence people's opinions.”

On a sentence diagram, such a choppy inclusion of a quote would be recognized immediately because noun clauses can't be the objects of prepositions. In fact, diagramming quotes that have meshed so inseparably into the grammar of your own sentence will seem nearly impossible if you start with the notion that the quote is a noun clause. The key to diagramming such quotes is to remember that their grammar is your grammar: if you pretend the quotation marks aren't there and that these were all your own words, how, then, would you diagram them? Where would they go? What parts of speech would they be? Diagram that sentence and you won't have any problem.

Special Punctuation in Quotations

For more about end punctuation and quotations, see “Sentence Moods,” which explains how to manage periods, commas, question marks, exclamation points, and other punctuation when the end punctuation of a quote coincides with the end punctuation of your sentence.

Meanwhile, as you continue developing your skills at marking quotations, you should make a point of learning two very useful alternative punctuation marks: brackets [ ] and ellipsis […].

Brackets are not parenthesis. Parentheses (xxx) enclose statements of secondary importance and are rounded, while brackets [xxx] are squared and denote your addition or alteration to the quotation. Why, you ask, would anyone want to change the quote? Isn't that cheating? Yes, it can be, if you alter the context or author's meaning in any way. However, there are a few practical reasons to make minor alterations by using brackets:

1. Clarification: When a reference or pronoun in the quote does not have a clear antecedent, it's usually because the antecedent is in some other paragraph not being quoted. In such cases, writers have the right to specifically identify the reference, in brackets:

“Because they [parrots] are social creatures with complex moral behaviors, flock members can sometimes be punished with forced isolation.”
You have the option to substitute the vague pronoun with the bracketed word:
“Because [parrots] are social creatures….”

2. Translation: While paraphrase is usually the preferred method, sometimes you can help readers with a bracketed translation if certain language in the quote might be deemed inappropriate or too sophisticated:

“As a member of this School Board, I stand firm that we not allow condoms to be available in schools to teenaged boys with raging [hormones].”

3. Grammar Adjustment: Brackets can be used to make minor changes to quotes whose grammar meshes with the grammar of your sentence:

“Tuchman argues that diseases were not curtailed during the Middle Ages because medical thinking often 'stress[ed] air as the communicator of disease.'"

The brackets in this example suggest that the grammar of the quoted sentence may have posed a subject-verb agreement error if it were not adjusted: “… because medical thinking often 'stressing air as the communicator of disease.'" 

Error Acknowledgment: Sometimes typos, misspellings, factual errors, and glaring mistakes of grammar (called “solecisms”) aren't purged in the editing process before a work goes to print. Writers and editors are only human, after all. However, that doesn't mean you should have to take the rap for their mistakes. When you're quoting such a work and you don't want readers to think that you're responsible for errors, you tell them so by using “[sic]” immediately after the error:

“Credit for John F. Kennedy's Profiles Of Courage [sic] is now generally accepted to belong to his speech writer, Theodore Sorenson [sic].”

The Latin word, “sic,” mean “as is,” indicating that you are quoting the text exactly as you found it, mistakes and all. Notice that “sic” has been italicized because it's a foreign word of infrequent use that retains its original Latin spelling and is used in context. (See “Foreign Words and Phrases” above.”) By the way, the correct title of Sorenson and Kennedy's book is Profiles In Courage, not "Of Courage."

Ellipsis is considered a single punctuation mark, even though it seems to be comprised of three dots: … Ellipsis denotes some sort of omission. When your quotation starts or ends in the middle of a sentence, you cue your readers to this with ellipsis:

Emerson encourages the Transcendental naturist to “…go instead where there is no path and leave…” no sign of your intrusion.

This particular rule is a little more flexible than others, as many instructors and editors will let you omit the opening ellipsis so that the grammar of the quote meshes more smoothly with the grammar of your sentence:

Emerson encourages the Transcendental naturist to “go instead where there is no path….”

If a quote that ends with ellipsis also coincides with the end of your own sentence, remember to add a period (unless, of course, a contextual citation is yet to be placed at the end of your sentence, but that's an entirely other matter).

When you omit something from the middle of the quote, this is considered, both, an omission and an alteration to the source, so ellipsis should appear in brackets as well: […]. Bracketed ellipsis helps to abbreviate long quotes to their most germane elements, and to drop words that are a hindrance. This is especially useful when you don't want to resort to the indented method of quotation. (See below.) Ellipsis weeds out sentences from the quote that are unimportant to your point, or which make the quote too lengthy for your the point:

Emerson also wrote, “Flowers and fruits are always fit presents […] a proud assertion that a ray of beauty out values all the utilities of the world.”

Placing ellipsis in brackets for this type of omission is a relatively recent change of convention, and, in my humble opinion, and ugly and ostentatious convention. Most instructors like myself will not harangue you about it if you forget to use the brackets. [Hint, hint!]


Titles As a Part of Speech

Titles. We're very used to using them, and even more used to recognizing them. After all, you can't navigate a cable guide, a game menu, or a book's table of contents without understanding the concept of “a title.” Everyone pretty much knows what makes a title “sound” like a title: it's a grouping of words that come together to name and brand a larger work. By “brand,” I mean, a title characterizes the content and/or purpose of a work. This can be done with language that's literal and/or language that's more figurative:

  • The Sound and the Fury
  • Vectors, Tensors and the Basic Equations of Fluid Mechanics
  • The Life of Pi
  • “Ode Upon a Grecian Urn”
  • The Mind of a Sentence: A Guide To Parts of Speech
  • The Necronomonicon
  • School For Scandal
  • How Green Was My Valley
  • “The Tell-Tale Heart”
  • Songs In the Key of Life
  • True Blood
  • Paradise Lost
  • Finnian's Rainbow
  • “Auld Lang Syne”
  • The Mabinogion

Any one of the phrases listed above is recognizable as a stand-alone title, but, at the same time, each one uses language in a way to tell you something about what's inside the works they represent. A title such as Vectors, Tensors and the Basic Equations of Fluid Mechanics is pretty literal-minded and straightforward—what you see is what you get. Other titles, such as True Blood, are more metaphorical and multi-layered in their meaning. You accept that the work this title represents (whether or not you know of the dramatic series) is probably literary and creative—something that can be read into while it entertains us. The title of the work you're now reading, The Mind of a Sentence: A Guide To Parts of Speech, is, both, figurative and literal in how it brands the way I like to write about grammar. It's easy enough to pick out these phrases as titles when they're in a list, as shown above.

However, what about when a title isn't just sitting on its own? What happens when titles are used in other contexts? By this, I mean, when a title is referenced in your own sentence, what is it grammatically? How do you classify it as a part of speech? As usual, our trusty question words tell us exactly what titles are, and how they should be represented in our own sentences. An adjective can answer questions like “Which?” An adverb can answer questions such as “How?” Verbs can answer questions such as “What's occurring?” Okay, so, when you want to figure out which program to watch, or which book to crack open, or which movie to go see, you ask, “What's on tonight?” or “What should I read?” or “What should we go see?” In other words, you want to know what the title is. The word “what” tells you that, in all cases, titles are nouns.

It's pretty much as simple as that. All titles are nouns. That the vast majority of them are written as phrases shouldn't bother you in the least. After all, you're no novice to noun phrases. Appositive phrases, gerund phrases, and even certain kinds of infinitive phrases are all groups of words working together as a single thing. So it goes with titles. To prove it to you, consider the following sentence, which intentionally leaves out any capital letters, commas, and markers that would otherwise denote a title:

I've watched bad girls club catfish and dancing with the stars deadliest catch chopped cops 19 kids and counting sister wives Kate plus eight and the bachelorette but I still don't know why any of these people deserved their own television show!

As crazy as the sentence seems to read, I'm confident you had no trouble navigating it, once you recognized where one title ends and another begins. You intuitively knew that one phrase means one thing and some other phrase means another. In your mind, you picked out the nouns and recognized the “what” of each of these titles:

I've watched Bad Girls Club, Catfish, and Dancing With the Stars, Deadliest Catch, Chopped, Cops, 19 Kids and Counting, Sister Wives, Kate Plus Eight, and The Bachelorette, but I still don't know why any of these people deserved their own television show!

The markers, the capital letters and the commas merely reinforce what you already know about these phrases: they're a list of names. Consequently, when you attempt to fit a title into the grammar of your own sentence, understand that it's a noun phrase, and that it occupies the exact same place that any other noun or pronoun might occupy: as a subject, as an object, or as a complement. Because of this, in your sentence diagram you can simply drop the entire title into one spot on a horizontal line, just as you would for a gerund phrase or an appositive phrase. If you want to up your game, you could diagram

Two Towers

the parts of speech within the title, but there's no advantage to this, since the grammar and syntax of the title doesn't interact with the grammar and syntax of your own sentence except in the title's entirety as a noun:

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Two Towers is the second book of his trilogy, Lord Of the Rings.

Marking Titles

Markers may seem a strange topic to cover in a guide to parts of speech, but they're actually integral to how we segregate these types of noun phrases from the sentence around them—in effect, marking them as special.

As noun phrases, titles are held to the same standards of punctuation as appositives: in the written sentence, they're set apart by commas, and in the sentence diagram, they're enclosed in parentheses and placed next to the nouns they rename. However, as you've probably already suspected from looking at the longer list of titles above, not every title is marked the same way. Why?

The term "markers" refers to a general category of punctuation marks that highlight individual words or phrases. Markers include:

  • double quotation marks “Behold the bridegroom cometh!”
  • single quotation marks “What is 'cometh' supposed to mean, anyway?”
  • italics (underlines) It's from The Iceman Cometh, a play by Eugene O'Neill.

These markers are used in the following ways:

Double Quotation Marks

When double quotation marks are used for titles, they identify shorter works. By “shorter,” I mean, any written or created work that has the potential to be included in a larger work: song titles can be included in an album; articles can be included in a magazine or newspaper; TV episode titles are included in the series; chapter titles are included in the book; and so on. The same goes for poem titles (that is, when they're not epic or very long narrative poems, such as Paradise Lost or The Iliad).

Single Quotation Marks

Single quotation marks are used to single out quoted words inside another quote. They do have application to titles, but this gets complicated, so I'll take this up as a separate issue later on.

Italics (or Underlines)

The word “Italic” is surely known to anyone who has used the writing technology of the last one hundred years. The capital “I” on the style menu of your word processing program stands for “Italic,” and you select it whenever you want to slant the letters. However, manual typewriters of the last century did not come with an option to italicize, so writers employed a simple underline to substitute for it. You're still allowed to use underlines when you want to italicize, as long as you don't use both at the same time. As with double quotation marks, italics have other uses than for titles, but when they are used for titles, they identify the names of longer works: book titles; dissertations and theses; journal titles; documentaries; movies; television series; operas; stage plays; art; ballets and other choreographed performances; etc.

Diagramming Titles

“Foot Loose and Fancy Free” is the eponymous track from Rod Stewart's 1977 album.


The diagram above proves that markers, when used to single out words and phrases from the surrounding grammar, showcase them as things. Hence, the title of any work is a thing that, regardless of what parts of speech the individual words within may be, is always treated as a single noun. (More about the plurals and possessives of titles can be found under “Noun Errors.”

Markers Within Markers: Things Within Things

Markers within markers is the culmination of all that makes the previous topics in this chapter seem complex. In reality, using markers inside other markers is very practical and simple: it's a matter of nesting showcased words and phrases inside others. “Nesting” should conjure in your mind an image of a Russian doll, one inside the next, revealed in layers. Each of the following conditions leads to a slightly different use of markers inside other markers:

  • a quotation of an expository work that discusses and quotes a literary work
  • a quotation of an expository work that quotes an outside opinion
  • a quotation of an expository work that references the title of a short work
  • a quotation of an expository work that references the title of a longer work
  • a title of a short work that references one or more titles of short works
  • a title of a short work that references one or more titles of longer works
  • a title of a short work referencing one or more titles of a short work and one or more longer works
  • a title of a longer work that references one or more titles of short works
  • a title of a longer work that references one or more titles of longer works
  • a title of a longer work that references one or more titles of short works and one or more titles of longer works

Don't let the long list fool you, though. While the circumstances vary, the rules of nested markers are consistent.

Nested Quotation Marks

In American usage, we alternate between double quotation marks and single quotation marks for every degree of nesting we progress. Think of it as you would comparatives and superlatives:

not quoted = no quotation marks
quoted, first time = double quotation marks
more quoted, inside the main quote = single quotation marks
even more quoted, inside the single quote marks = double quotation marks again
still more quoted, inside the double quotation marks = single quotation marks again

The matriarchs of Ritchburg's novel seem to be caricatures of their nineteenth century male ancestors: "Aunt Felicia snatched up her knitting needles and growled in a masculine voice, 'My grand-daddy knew a thing or two about how to talk to misbehavin' childs.' She struck a needle against the arm of her chair and snapped, 'He'd say, “I'll make it right--with a switch and a strong right arm!” That's what he'd say,' then she quietly resumed her knitting." Ritchburg perhaps resorts to these invocations of strong male archetypes as a way to make her women characters seem more like feminists.
The example at left uses all of the conditions of nested quotation outlined below. The quotations—not the student's writing—occur nested in three degrees. That means there are four separated voices in this example, in total. Here is an explanation of how and why they occur.
not quoted
The student "speaks" in his own voice. A student is writing an expository work about a work of contemporary literature; his own words about the literature he is analyzing do not need to be quoted or marked differently.
“…” = quoted, first time
The student quotes the narrative voice. The student uses a verbatim (word-for-word) quotation of the story's narrator.  (A narrator is the primary "voice" or "consciousness" that tells the story.)  Afterward, the student continues his analysis by commenting on the significance of the quote, but, once again, his own words don't need to go in quotation marks. 
“ '…' ” = more quoted 
The narrator quotes Aunt Felicia's voice. The narrator of the cited story quotes Aunt Felicia in her own character voice, then the narrator resumes its description of what Aunt Felicia does after she has finished talking.
“ ' “…” ' ” = even more quoted 
Aunt Felicia quotes her grandfather's voice; when she's done talking like her grandfather, the narrator goes back to quoting Aunt Felicia with a few more words in her own voice.

Nested Italics

Mercifully, when nested inside other markers, italicized words remain largely unaffected one way or another; they just stay italicized. The rare exception occurs when an italicized title, word, or foreign phrase is used inside another italicized title or phrase. Then, you simply alternate between italics or no italics; there's no variation on the style of italics, as there is with quotation marks. You wouldn't, for example, resort to underlines or bolding, then switch back to italics in the next degree of nested title.



Dubliners: Text and Criticism
Finding Your Joie de Vivre


Dubliners: Text and Criticism
Finding Your Joie de Vivre

Should either of these titles ever be quoted or included in the title of a short work, no typographical adjustment is recommended, no matter how much you may wish to “fudge” the markers. (Some matters are simply out of your control.)


“Gathering the Dead: A Critical Review of 'Dubliners: Text and Criticism'”
“Gathering the Dead: A Critical Review of Dubliners: Text and Criticism
“Good News: Best Seller Finding Your Joie de Vivre


“Gathering the Dead: A Critical Review of Dubliners: Text and Criticism
“Good News: Best Seller Finding Your Joie de Vivre”

Indention As a Marker

When larger blocks of quotation are borrowed from outside sources, and they take up more than three lines of your own paragraph, you must use the indented method instead of using double quotation marks. While this may, at first, sound like it's going to ruin your day with yet another arbitrary exception to the rules, the indented method of quoting is actually liberating: it frees you from having to worry about some of the more nitpicking rules of markers.

Indented quotes are sometimes referred to as “block quotes,” a term still used in hypertext mark-up language (html) to indicate a block of text with added indention on the left and/or right margins to set it apart from the surrounding text. That's pretty much the same rationale for using indented quotes in your own paragraph, too. When a long quote takes up more than several lines of your paragraph, everything can become a mishmash—it's difficult to know where the quote stops and your writing continues. When there are more than one quote in a paragraph, this becomes especially stymying. Therefore, indention helps the reader's eye quickly differentiate these different voices in your writing.

To indent any long quote, drop one double-spaced line at the juncture where you would otherwise have started the usual markers, regardless of the method of incorporating the quote. (Leave the colon or comma where it is, or, if no punctuation would have been used, don't add any before dropping the quote to the next line.) Indent one additional inch from the left margin, and, in your usual double line-spacing, reproduce the quote exactly as it appears in the original text. That's it.

“Okay, what's the 'freeing' part?” I hear you ask. Because indention is a marker, you're now free from having to

  • start and end the quote with double quotation marks;
  • change the line height to be single-spacing;
  • change the font type or size;
  • indent on the right;
  • change any of the nested quotation marks to single quote marks (very handy if you're quoting a passage with character dialogue);
  • alter any of the half-inch paragraph indentions used in the original;
  • concern yourself over whether the citation goes inside the quote (it doesn't).

Here's what it looks like when you've done it correctly:

Wing Biddlebaum in Sherwood Anderson's story "Hands" encourages his protege to be his own person, despite the risk it brings of being an outsider:
    "You are destroying yourself," he cried.
    "You have the inclination to be alone and to dream and you are afraid of dreams. You want to be like others in town here. You hear them talk and you try to imitate them."
    On the grassy bank Wing Biddlebaum had tried again to drive his point home. His voice became soft and reminiscent, and with a sigh of contentment he launched into a long rambling talk, speaking as one lost in a dream. (61)
In this, Biddlebaum also seems to be forgiving himself for suffering the same fate, as well as rationalizing the benefits that being on the boundary provided him.


However—yeah, you knew there'd be a “however”—you shouldn't overuse indention as a method to mark quotations. It begins to look ostentatious and suspicious if pages of your essay are filled with indented quotes. You should be able to parse long quotations for their salient remarks and information, and use a combination of paraphrase and verbatim quotation to achieve your aims. The more that your writing is written in your own words, the better.


Once you master the markers, you'll see that quotation of prose is pretty straightforward and fairly consistent in how it applies the "rules."  With other literary genres such as drama or poetry, essay writers have to take into consideration what typographically and stylistically makes them different from prose, and learn to use a new set of the punctuation marks for them.  

Although there are such things as prose poems, generally what makes most poems different from prose is their use of the line and the stanza.  Additionally, poets routinely play with how the entire poem looks on the page, including its typography, shape, and its layout, or how lines and stanzas are arranged, including irregular indents, dropped lines, stepped lines, zigzagging, and so on.

As with quoted prose, when contextually quoted lines of poetry would otherwise take up more than three double-spaced lines of your paragraph, you should use resort instead to the indented method and observe all the same rules of punctuation, spacing, and indention:

In his poem, "The Mechanics of Men," David Tomas Martinez recalls his labor-intensive job working on the docks as a way to deconstruct his own maleness:
I have never been the most mechanically inclined of men.
                Wrenches, screwdrivers, or shovels
have never made nice with me. In the shipyard,
              I ripened the rusty metal. I knew
that this was a job to baby-sit me, a job they gave to bad         burners,... (ll. 1-12)

In this indented quotation of Martinez's poem, the lines are broken and stanzas are separated exactly as they appear in the original source. One of them is long enough to rap the right margin, in which case a hanging indention was needed to tell readers where the actual line-break occurred. If one or more lines are omitted to bridge disparate sections of the poem together, ellipsis should take a form approximately the same length as the lines above or below it. Typically, a poem's citation cites line numbers instead of page numbers; this is a soft rule, though, and you also have the option to identify these before you introduce the quote instead of after.

When the quoted lines of a poem take three or fewer double-spaced lines of your paragraph, they can be a written as a contextual quotation (a quotation used in the context of your paragraph). However, because the text's irregularities of layout and design cannot be faithfully reproduced, you may ignore these:  

In his poem, "The Mechanics of Men," David Tomas Martinez recalls his labor-intensive job working on the docks as a way to deconstruct his own maleness: "I have never been the most mechanically inclined of men. / ... // I worked alone, in the dark... / deep in the bilges of frigates" (ll. 1-5).

Omission, line breaks, and stanza breaks, however, must faithfully be retained. To indicate a line break, use a forward slash (/). To indicate a stanza break, use a forward double-slash (//). To denote omitted lines (or parts of lines), use ellipsis exactly as you would in prose (...). 

Diagramming Indented Quotes

Don't. If you have particular need of understanding the grammar of one or two sentences in a long quote, because doing so will help you to understand the subtlety of its reasoning, then, sure, by all means, have at it. I actually did this with some passages from a Emmanuel Levinas text on language and cultural anthropology, in which Levinas uses language in linguistically complex and abstract ways. As basic skills students with tons of free time on your hands, though, you may wish to do this just for fun, but, if that's your kind of fun, then ask me out for coffee instead.

Last Updated: 04/11/2016


Karl J Sherlock
Associate Professor, English
Phone: 619-644-7871

  • Grossmont
  • Cuyamaca
A Member of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District