How to Use Curly Quotes on Mac OSX and Windows

Published on February 11, 2013.

curly smart quotes

The curly, or smart quote is an elusive character. For years I have been including straight marks in my writing, blissfully unaware that I was doing it all wrong. Recently, I learned about some functional differences between straight and curly quotation marks.

Straight marks

typewriter

Straight marks were invented for use on typewriters. Due to physical and mechanical constraints, you can only fit so many keys on a typewriter’s keyboard. Using straight quotes instead of curly quotes freed up two slots for other characters on the keyboard, which is why these characters were preferable.

When computers came into the fray, they put these straight marks to good use. Most programming languages require the use of straight marks to indicate string literals (e.g. “Hello world”), so they are still very useful today.

Usage

On any typical keyboard, simply press ' for a straight single mark ( ‘ ) and Shift + ' for a straight double mark ( “ ).

Curly quotes

Unlike straight marks, curly quotes are usually more legible in paragraphs and long texts, and match the other characters better. They are more suitable for reading, and should be used when writing documents, articles, blog posts, etc.

Usage

It turns out that producing curly quotes on a computer is super easy. I’ve committed these simple shortcuts to memory.

Mac OSX

  • Alt + ] produces an opening single curly quote ( )
  • Alt + Shift + ] produces a closing single curly quote ( )
  • Alt + [ produces an opening double curly quote ( )
  • Alt + Shift + [ produces a closing double curly quote ( )

Windows

  • Alt + 0145 produces an opening single curly quote ( )
  • Alt + 0146 produces a closing single curly quote ( )
  • Alt + 0147 produces an opening double curly quote ( )
  • Alt + 0148 produces a closing double curly quote ( )

Converting straight marks to curly quotes

Some word processors like Microsoft Word will automatically convert straight marks to curly quotes for you on the fly, as you type. However, if you copy and paste text that includes straight marks into a word processor, it may not always convert the straight marks properly.

To manually convert straight marks to curly quotes within your word processor, simply use the search and replace function to find all instances of the straight single quote ( ‘ ) and replace it with the same character — a straight single quote ( ‘ ). You can do the same for straight double marks ( “ ) too.

I’m not sure why, but it works.

Who cares?

These small details in your writing will go unnoticed by most, no doubt. Snobby typographers, bookworms, and other designers and developers will be among the few who may actually notice. And maybe that significant other you dated back in 2006 who majored in creative writing.

Either way, I like to believe that the devil is in the details. The subtleties of these pesky quotation marks is an interesting tidbit in type history worth rehashing.

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