|straight single quote|
|straight double quote|
|opening single quote||alt 0145||option + ]|
|closing single quote||alt 0146||option + shift + ]|
|opening double quote||alt 0147||option + [|
|closing double quote||alt 0148||option + shift + [|
Straight quotes come to us from the typewriter. In traditional printing, all quotation marks were curly. But typewriter character sets were limited by mechanical constraints and physical space. By replacing the curly opening and closing quotes with ambidextrous straight quotes, two slots became available for other characters.
Word processors are not limited in this way. You can always get curly quotes. Compared to straight quotes, curly quotes are more legible on the page and match the other characters better. Therefore, straight quotes should never, ever appear in your documents.
Fortunately, avoiding straight quotes is easy: use your word processor’s smart-quote feature, which will substitute curly quotes automatically. Smart quotes are typically turned on by default.
Smart-quote substitution has been built into word processors for 20 years. That’s why straight quotes are one of the most grievous and inept typographic errors.
When you paste or import text with straight quotes in it, your word processor may not always convert the straight quotes properly. But it’s easy to fix them. So do it.
Use the search-and-replace function to search for all instances of the straight single quote (
') and replace it with the same character—a straight single quote ( ').
Use the search-and-replace function to search for all instances of the straight double quote (
") and replace it with the same character—a straight double quote ( ").
Don’t use quotation marks for emphasis. That’s a job for bold or italic.
Straight quotes are acceptable in email. It’s hard to see the difference between straight and curly quotes on screen at small sizes. And if you’re typing with thumbs on a smartphone, it can be irrationally difficult to insert them.
Some older digital documents are stored with double quotes made of two single quotes (
) or two grave accents ( ' ' ``). (The grave accent, also sometimes called a backtick, is that character above the tab key you’ve probably never used.) These can be fixed by adapting the search-and-replace technique described above.
Quotation marks are an area of vast typographic diversity among other languages—both the glyphs used and how they’re spaced. Now you know why curly quotes have to be smart.
Computer scientists and documentation writers, take note: straight quotes and backticks in software code should never be converted to curly quotes. Those marks are, of course, part of the functional syntax of the code and must be reproduced literally. While fans of LaTeX have often written me to trumpet its typesetting superiority, I’ve never seen any LaTeX-created documentation that’s gotten this right.