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How to Write about Law: Legal Writing for Law School & Law Reviews – Free Addendum

A student recently asked me an interesting question about quotations, which I did not address in How to Write About Law.
What about quotations which themselves contain quotes?

Here is an example by my hero John Kennedy.

“…we must think and act not only for the moment but for our time. I am reminded of the story of the great French Marshal Lyautey, who once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow-growing and would not reach maturity for a hundred years. The Marshal replied, ‘In that case, there is no time to lose, plant it this afternoon.'” -John Kennedy

indicates the person speaking (Kennedy) and
indicates the person quoted (the Marshall) by the speaker who you are quoting (Kennedy).

Kennedy said: “a hundred years. The Marshall replied, ‘blah'”

This type of quotation can be referred to as a nested quote.

We nest quotes thusly:
” ‘ ‘ “
Nesting of quotations is similar to nesting of braces, brackets, and parentheses in mathematics to indicate the order of operations.

Related points:
Polyglot Quotation Styles
English quotation marks are “for example like this”, whereas
<<french quotations are thus>> and
,,German quotations are this way.

When quoting foreign text in your English language works I recommend including a translation in the footnote of the original text. I don’t require that of my students, but your editors will appreciate it. I also would use the foreign quotation convention, not the US convention. For examples of retention of foreign literary conventions in English: 1) we capitalize German nouns in English, 2) we retain foreign spellings of loan-words such as crepe in English, though we may drop diacritical marks as I have here or retain them at the author’s discretion. It is better style to retain diacritical marks such as accents, circumflex, etc. Not all English language authors retain diacritical marks on loan-words to English because old typewriters did not have unicode symbols.

I presume nested quotations in French and German likely also use a single quote mark to indicate a quotation of someone who quotes another person. I could be wrong about that, so … don’t quote me on that. 🙂

It is bad style to use emoticons in scientific writing. I do so to raise that point so it is not left unstated.

Non-Literal Quotation Marks

Quotation marks are used to indicate literal speech, but also to indicate concepts and terms such as “nested quotes”. I think it is better to avoid using quotation marks to indicate concepts or terms:  Either the quoted concept is strong enough to stand on its own, in which case it needs no attention brought to it by a quotation mark, or it isn’t. No amount of bolstering or posturing strengthens a weak or unpersuasive idea. Furthermore, this (mis)use of the quotation mark makes your reader anticipate something which never occurs: the words of someone other than you, the author. The result? A confused and frustrated reader, left wondering whether your quoted concept is someone else’s words you used but forgot to cite.
Citus interruptus, to coin a ribald witty phrase.

Quoted concepts also weaken your writing by making it look sarcastic or affected. No one likes a faker…

Source: How to Write about Law: Legal Writing for Law School & Law Reviews – Kindle edition by Eric Engle. Professional & Technical Kindle eBooks @

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