I am editing a text in which the characters use quotations from the Bible quite often.

Example: Jeremiah turned toward him, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice..."

All he says is a quote from Romans:12. How do I show that he is quoting and these are not the character's words? Do I add single quotation marks around the entire quote? It looks weird, to say the least:

"'Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice...'"

I hope somebody can help. Thank you!

  • Is he quoting explicitly/intentionally ("as the bible says, blah blah blah"), or is he just injecting the quoted phrases into his speech more passively? Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 14:05
  • @MonicaCellio It's always passively.
    – Una_mas
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 14:12

2 Answers 2


In real life, you will not know if what someone says is a quote from a book or his own words, if you don't know the text that person is quoting from.

For example, if you are familiar with the Terminator movies and someone says "hasta la vista, baby," you might realize that they are quoting Arnold Schwarzenegger, but if you have never seen those movies you might think they have been taking Spanish classes.

To complicate things even more, even if you have seen the movie and recognize the phrase, you cannot be sure that the person is actually quoting it. Unless the person speaking is making a quotation mark gesture or speaking in a Schwarzenegger-like voice, they might have learned the phrase elsewhere or come up with it on their own.

Since dialogue in fiction mimics real life verbal behavior, you must not use quotation marks around quotations within dialogue. Any explanation of the quote must come from within the fictional world, e.g. the character is explaining that they are quoting a text, or the narrator explains that it is a quote. If the character is speaking in a special voice, mark up that voice (e.g. in italics) or let the narrator say that they are now speaking in such-and-such a voice, but do not use quotation marks within quotation marks (that is reserved for non-fiction quotes-within-quotes).

  • 1
    While I agree with this answer, I disagree that quotes within quotes can never be used in fiction. I've seen them used effectively, generally to convey tone of voice when a quote is being verbally implied. For example: > Ravi said, "As the bible says, 'never use air quotes or you risk looking foolish.'" Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 3:21
  • @NeilFein Personally I think that is bad style -- or rather: the misapplication of academic style to fiction.
    – user5645
    Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 5:56

Sorry, but a summary of the others' answers is: You don't.

You may cite your source, but it's up to your readers to know you're quoting, although the best way to make them realize he/she is quoting certain literature or media is to develop him/her to seem the kind of person who would quote it.

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