Someone recently asked, “Grammar mistress, what’s the difference between straight vs. curly quotation marks?” A couple things about this question make me happy. First, I’m kind of digging “grammar mistress,” and second, these are the subtleties that no one ever seems to talk about. So let’s talk about it.
This explanation goes back to typewriters much like the single vs. double space formatting change. With limited keys available, typewriters only used straight quotation marks ( “ ) no matter whether any given mark was used at the start or end of a quote. This differs from the curly quotation marks ( “ ” ) that you most commonly see surrounding quotations in printed materials and typed on computer keyboards today.
Curly quotation marks are more legible on the page and clearer in purpose. Many people recommend using them at all times (since typewriters are no longer an issue), and I largely agree.
Straight quotes still do have a purpose from time to time, because of awkward styling issues online. Some people argue for straight quotations in email or on the web so that no funky “"” or “&ldquo” type tags will accidentally interfere with their text. Have you ever noticed that code jargon online? Curly quotation marks are sometimes the culprit. (Honestly, I wouldn’t stress about this, though. Polishing the style of text online is something more for developers than writers.)
And after all this, are you suddenly wondering how do you make a straight quotation mark in Microsoft Word?
The answer to this final question is simple. After you type a quotation mark in Word, it automatically auto-formats to become a curly quotation mark. Before pressing any other key, press CTRL + Z (undo). It’s like magic. That quotation mark will lose its auto-formatting and become a plain old straight quotation mark. Did I teach you a fancy trick?
That’s all from the grammar mistress today. Did I mention I liked that title?