Learn English – Use of quotation marks after ‘it’s called X’ and similar?

indirect-speechnounspunctuationquotation marks

I've been looking at the Oxford Dictionary's page on inverted commas, and see that they use this example:

He called this phenomenon "the memory of water."

This seems like it would work with or without the quotation marks, but I can't seem to find any specific guidance on the appropriate use of quotation marks for sentences that say something is called something. I've written some example sentences:

I call this 'the XYZ theory'.


I have a problem with a thing called 'small talk'.

Is it a case of quotation mark/inverted comma usage being appropriate when it's an unknown term, but inappropriate when it's a commonly used noun? The first example looks correct to me, whereas the second doesn't sit right unless the quotation marks are being used to draw emphasis.

I believe that you definitely wouldn't use them with proper nouns (my friend is called Peter, not my friend is called 'Peter'), and you could use them with film/book titles, etc. But what about nouns other than those?

I'm aware this may be a duplicate to this question, but the answers seem inconclusive.

Best Answer

According to Grammarly - paragraphs 1-3: In general, titles of long, full-length works should be italicized, although some style guides recommend putting them in quotation marks. Full-length works are things like novels, plays, movies, epic poems, and textbooks. Shorter works (poems, articles, short stories, chapter titles) are typically put in quotation marks.

He called this phenomenon "the memory of water."

Given the above recommendation, quotes are appropriate here.

I call this 'the XYZ theory'.

Also given the above recommendation, I would use quotes here too. Additionally, if "the" is part of the name of the theory, it should be capitalized. Otherwise, place it outside the quotations. Ex: I call this the "XYZ Theory". Same goes for the word "theory"; if it is not part of the theory title, it should be outside of the quotes: I call this the "XYZ" theory.

I have a problem with a thing called 'small talk'.

According to Three Editors Blog - last rule in the article: You can use either quotes or italics. I would classify the quoted words here words as words. We often use italics for words used as words, but we can also use quotation marks.

Additionally, according to APA Style Blog - paragraph 2: The APA Manual (on p. 105) recommends using italics for the “introduction of a new, technical, or key term or label," adding "(after a term has been used once, do not italicize it).”

Thus, it seems either would be appropriate but both references seem to favor italics, given that this is a definition and not a quote.

When you’re deciding between italics and quotation marks, always remember the rules of clarity and consistency: make it clear for the reader and be consistent. Sometimes either quotations or italics will be appropriate but remain consistent if using them multiple times. Clarity most often wins.