Many people find themselves a little confused when it comes to quotation marks, and it is easy to understand why – they’re used differently in almost every piece of writing we pick up, it seems. What, exactly, is the difference between single and double quotations, and why does it matter?
Like other aspects of the English language, it comes down to whether you use British English or American English. The British tend to use singles in books and doubles in newspapers. American English is even simpler; double quotations for everything. Single quotations are only used in American English when you have a quote within a quote.
We often see quotations used to highlight specific words in sentences that are not an actual quote, to emphasis that word. When doing so, British English uses single quotations, and American English uses doubles.
Example: Although similar, the two coffee mugs were not “exactly” the same, as Jessica had suggested.
Both types of quotation marks – single and double – are used in a number of ways that are incorrect. People simply aren’t sure which to use and go with what seems right to them and, because no one else seems to know either, it doesn’t get corrected. Slate even suggested that single quotations in North America are getting used in place of doubles because people don’t want to take the time or extra effort it takes to press the “shift” key.
What all of this really means is that the version of English you use is what dictates how you use quotes: British uses primarily single quotations and double quotations secondarily, while American English is the opposite. Whether you choose to use the British or American style, the important part to remember is to be consistent in your usage; stick to just one style for the entire piece.
As with most things, consistency is the key to success here.