Smart quote-marks for smart writing

Red metal quote marksKeyboard shortcuts are a great timesaver when you’re spending hours typing away on your computer. I’ve just learned a couple of new ones, for inserting smart (curly) quotes in text where autoformat functions, such as Word’s, don’t work, and for doing the opposite: inserting straight quotes when you’re working in AutoFormat mode.

I discovered these tips when I was working (in Joomla) on the copy for my revamped website. I noticed that some of the quote marks I’d been inserting were straight, not curly and that I’d ended up with a sloppy-looking mish-mash of both types.

So I contacted Zoë, my web-designer, who told me some keyboard shortcuts to turn straight quotes into smart in programmes or environments where AutoFormat isn’t available, and how to insert straight quotes when necessary. I’d to go through each page of the website (which has a lot of quotes — from Aeschylus to Groucho Marx!) and change them all by hand. But at least they’re sorted (although a couple no doubt slipped through the net).

These shortcuts are for Macs, by the way, but PCs should have something similar.

Inserting smart quotes

First, to set up Word to insert smart quotes automatically, go to the Insert menu > Autotext > AutoFormat As You Type and, in the section under Replace as you type, check the box next to “Straight quotes” with “smart quotes”.

If you’re working in an application where AutoFormat doesn’t work, you can use the following shortcuts:

For double right-facing quote marks (“): alt+left square bracket ([)

For double left-facing quote marks (”): shift+alt+left curly bracket ({)

For single right-facing quote mark (‘): alt+right square bracket (])

For single left-facing quote mark (’): shift+alt+right curly bracket (})

These shortcuts are also useful when you want to boss your programme around. For example, when you’re in AutoFormat mode, Word assumes that in a sentence like “The ‘80s were the decade of wide-shouldered power suits”, the single quote mark before 80s (as an abbreviation for 1980s) is opening a quote. So it makes the quote mark left-facing, when it should in fact be right-facing. But if you use the keyboard short-cut: shift+alt+left-facing curly bracket (}), you’ll get “the ’80s”.

Inserting straight quotes or prime marks

Sometimes you need to insert straight quotes rather than smart ones — when you’re using them as prime marks, say, to signify feet and inches or hours, minutes and seconds etc., like this: 5′ 6″ (5 feet and 6 inches (length), or 5 minutes and 6 seconds (time)). True prime marks are straight but slightly slanted, rather than vertical, but straight quotes do the job nicely.

To insert straight quotes when you’re working in curly-quote mode, type the single or double quote mark as required, then use the keyboard shortcut for “Undo”: command+z. That’ll turn the curly quote into a straight one and instead of 5’ 6”, you’ll get 5′ 6″. (In Word, I’d have expected it to remove the character I’d just typed, but no, it doesn’t. It does here in WordPress, though, as I’ve just discovered!).

As I mentioned above, these shortcuts are courtesy Red metal quote marksof the wonderful Zoë Shuttleworth of Rude Goose and are for use on a Mac. But other operating systems should have something similar — if you know of any, tell us about them in the comments. That goes for other keyboard shortcuts too — if you’ve got any you find particularly useful, we’d love to hear about them.

Photo courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

Join the conversation


  1. Thanks for that, Marian. I am a little over-obsessive about my smart quote marks and forever find myself having to highlight straight quotes and hit Shift+2 again to get them!

Leave a comment

Have your say!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.