Span inside of Anchor

So, this is a really silly question but I am not familiar with the following format and just trying to learn it.

I am trying to put <span> something </span> inside of <a> but I am not making it work.

$output.= '<a class="royal_title_href" href="' . get_permalink() . '">' . the_title('', '', false) . '<span>' '</span>' '</a>';

Could someone help me the format?

Thanks guys.

Source: syntax

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