Learn Hiragana

「」『』 - Japanese Quotation Marks - Usage & Differences

Wednesday, May 3, 2017
In Japanese, there are four weird bracket symbols that like to show up from time to time: 「 and 」, and『 and 』. These corner brackets are actually the Japanese quotation marks and they work in a similar but slightly different way from the quotation marks we use in English.

(Category: The Japanese Writing System)

To begin with, just like there are single quotes (', ‘ and ’) and double quotes (", “ and ”) in English, there are single "hook brackets" and "double hook brackets" in Japanese.
  1. kagikakko かぎ括弧
    「 and 」
    Literally "hook brackets"
  2. nijyuu kagikakko 二重かぎ括弧
    『 and 』
    Literally "double hook brackets"

Japanese can be written horizontally or vertically. Depending on the direction it's written, the shape of the quotation marks becomes different. In horizontal text the opening bracket is at top left and the closing bracket is at bottom right. In vertical text the opening bracket is at top right and the closing bracket is at bottom left. In both cases the opening and closing brackets match the reading direction.


Difference Between 「」 and 『』

The basic difference between 「」 and 『』 is that 「」 is the default and most widely used, while the other one is not. Just like we don't often use single quotes in English to... well, to quote people, in Japanese you don't normally use the double hook brackets. It sounds inverted, and it is, but that's how it works.

There is no difference between how 「」 and 『』 affect a phrase. They are both just quotation marks and don't impact the grammar, add nuance, or whatever. There is as much difference between them as there is difference between ' and ".

In English, if you have a quote inside a quote you should alternate quote marks. For example, in the phrase "she said 'yes'" there are double quotes around everything and single quotes for the "yes." In Japanese the same phrase would be  "kanojo wa 'hai' to itta"「彼女は『はい』と言った」.

The rule above is the one known by most Japanese natives, it's taught in elementary school. There are other rules, which are lesser known, that'd allow using the nijyuu kagikakko『』 outside of a kagikakko 「」 pair.

One of said rules is that, when quoting names of people or titles of things, you can use 『』 instead of 「」. This means that the "Weekly Shounen Jump," a shounen manga magazine, would be quoted as "shuukan shounen jyanpu" 『週刊少年ジャンプ』 for example.

In some cases 『』 is used instead of 「」 as matter of pure stylistic choice of the author. He may have just thought 『』 looked better and went with it. Sometimes there just isn't any special or deeper reason for it.

How To Type

To type 「」 using a Japanese IME software you have to press the two keys to the right of the P letter, between the P letter and the enter key. Most likely, if your keyboard has an English International layout, those two keys will be [ and ]. If your keyboard has a Brazilian layout like mine, the keys would be ´ and [. Anyway, they are to the right of the P key.

To type 『』 you must use the IME conversion to convert 「」 into 『』. There is no way to type the nijyuu kagikakko 『』 directly from the keyboard. You must type the single kagikakko 「」 then press space and convert it to 『』.

Vocabulary & Grammar

The kagi かぎ in the word kagikakko かぎ括弧 comes from kagi 鉤,  which means "hook," and not from the other, more common kagi 鍵 that means "key." The kakko 括弧 part means "parenthesis" and is often written with katakana instead: kakko カッコ. kagikakko かぎカッコ.

The act of "quoting" is called in'you 引用. In a quotation, you "surround," kakomu 囲む, words or sentences with the quotation marks.

Quotation marks are necessary to literally quote something, but in practice you can quote phrases without using literal quotes. Just like in English you can write "she said yes" without using quotes around the word she said, in Japanese you can write kanojo wa hai to itta 彼女ははいと言った without quotes. In either case this is not a good practice, you should use quotes when you quote people so it's easier to read, but some authors happen to write this way.

Further, the grammar particles to と and tte って are used to refer to something someone said, usually this something will be surrounded by quotes, but not always. For example: hai tte 「はい」って would mean "[he/she/you/they/etc. said] 'yes.'" or "[it's written] 'yes'."

Finally, the most important thing of all, in the visual novel and anime No Game No Life ノーゲーム・ノーライフ (NGNL) the genius duo Sora 空 and Shiro 白 share the pseudonym kuuhaku 「」 . Normally, the word kuuhaku 空白 means a "blank space" and is written with the kanji for "sky," sora 空 and the color "white," shiro 白. In the series, however, kuuhaku is written as 「」, as if it's using quotation marks around nothing. This probably mimics what'd happen if you left your name blank in a game when asked to type it and then the game tried to put quotes around your blank name.

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