I've noticed several instances of code spans (Created with a pair of ` backticks) being used to format words or phrases in another language. Should we consider this type of formatting proper, or do we change it to double quotation marks (or something else)?

  • why do you think this is important? Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 19:18
  • @bonomo If it wasn't, formatting wouldn't be an issue on the internet, while it's as important as the content.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Jun 24, 2012 at 20:03
  • 1. it's not necessary (take a look at legal documents) and 2. has its caveats especially when the rich formatting is lost at copying/pasting to the plain text Commented Jun 24, 2012 at 20:16
  • @bonomo nothing is really necessary except for food and water. That's not a good reason to stop progress. Also, nothing is stopping us from adding quote marks around quote spans with :before and :after.
    – kotekzot
    Commented Jun 24, 2012 at 20:36

3 Answers 3


In the early days of English Language & Usage, people there strived to enforce the well-known convention of italicizing inlined words and phrases (not necessarily in another language). Apart from its being a generally accepted practice, it is aesthetically pleasing. Examples abound:

Example 1

Example 2

Myself, I am partial towards the view that [code][/code] should only be used for, well, code. Using the backticks for formatting inlined words and phrases is indicative of a programming background, e.g. StackOverflow. Also, see this question and Rahul Narain's answer on EL&U.Meta.

On a tangentially related note, I also suggest using single inverted commas for inlined translations of preceding Russian words and phrases, as in this question of mine:

I certainly find the phrase **белый большой дом* ‘white big house’ to be infelicitous under most circumstances and would prefer большой белый дом ‘big white house’.

  • In my experience, translation notes come in round parentheses, as they are not part of the sentence. Is there any particular reason you prefer single quotation marks? I agree that code should be reserved for actual code.
    – kotekzot
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 2:51
  • @kotekzot Some (admittedly limited) experience with inline glosses in the language-related references I have read and consulted apart, no particular reason at all. Also, as Cerberus pointed out in the EL&U chatroom, you'd have to watch out for ambiguities with bare parentheses. He is more experienced with the formatting practices than I am anyway, and he kindly offered to comment on this issue.
    – Vitaly
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 3:45
  • Haha, OK, then comment I shall. I have no problem with 'single quotation marks', "doubles", (round brackets), or ("both"); I have seen all four used in academic literature. There is a small catch with simple round brackets: because they are regularly used for other things in similar contexts, they can sometimes be ambiguous, when they are mistaken for something other than a translation gloss. I have encountered such cases. So one should be aware of the possibility. ...
    – Cerberus
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 3:49
  • ... As to quotation marks plus brackets, that is what I personally prefer over quotation marks only, precisely because a translation is functionally parenthetical. However, some find using quotation marks and brackets together a bit superfluous and clutter-like. And we have other situations where we do not mark parenthesis either, as in father Christmas, or as in the article 'Feline Metabolism'. So I think just quotation marks is also fine, although I usually do not use this style myself. At any rate, all three styles are usually fine, and it really doesn't matter much.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 3:49
  • Thanks for the clarification! I'll be fine with whatever formatting style we adopt as our guideline as long as it's uniformly applied and widely accepted in academic literature.
    – Vitaly
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 3:53
  • @Cerberus thanks for your input, that sounds fairly reasonable. I'm still holding my breath for inline quotes, but if that's not an option I'm going to support italics + translation in parentheses/quotation marks.
    – kotekzot
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 3:57
  • Unfortuantely, the font on this site has slanted italics rather than true italics, so the emphasised text doesn't standout very much. Commented May 1, 2023 at 4:13

I suggest using code spans only for Linguistics interlinear gloss, like:

я        читаю   книгу.
I        read    book
Subject  Verb    Direct Object

And use blockquotes, italics, etc, for other things.


In my opinion double quotation is low contrast, it doesn't emphasize the key words and phrases in a passage, making it much harder to get a point of a question by quick looking at it.

So I suggest (a deliberate) use of code spans to make texts easier to read.

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