Quotation Marks: Not for Emphasis

Photo credit: interpunct on Flickr
A quick, (hopefully) informative post on today, on the proper use of quotation marks outside of
dialogue.

In this case, I’m not talking about using quotation marks for titles or to directly quote someone or something (which is entirely correct, and I imagine most of you know how to do that). Instead, I’m debunking a quotation mark myth.

There’s a common misconception about quotation marks that they can be used to emphasize something with a sort of air quote usage. I’ve often seen signs for “fresh” food or a “great” service, but you’re actually shooting yourself in the foot when you try to use quotations for emphasis.

Because the truth is, quotation marks outside of dialogue aren’t used for emphasis—they’re used to indicate something isn’t really whatever is within the quotation marks, that is, to denote sarcasm. So for example…

That “fresh” food isn’t actually fresh.

That “great” service is probably pretty terrible.

That “cheese” sandwich might not actually be edible.

Some other examples...

Photo credit: Brett Jordan on Flickr
Um...yikes?

Photo credit: The Letter E on Flickr
I gotcha. *wink wink*

Photo credit: alexliivet on Flickr
And I am now very "hungry."

Photo credit: hodgers on Flickr
Yeah...I don't even know what to do with that. 

Don’t believe me? Check out this great (and more comprehensive) post from The Write Practice

Repeat after me: quotation marks should not be used for emphasis, unless you want to be the subject of much snark and ire. Unless you’re trying to be snarky, in which case, air quote away.

What grammatical technicalities do you tend to trip up on? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Do you use quotation marks for emphasis? You may be using them incorrectly, and here's why. (Click to tweet
Writer @Ava_Jae debunks a common misconception on quotation marks—with fun pictures. (Click to tweet)

12 comments:

Emily said...

This is a "great" post. Haha, kidding, it really is :) there are so many misconceptions in grammar. Luckily I'm not guilty of this one.

Laura Rueckert said...

Oh, these are the worst. And I have to add my own. The submarine sandwich place in my town sells "salads." I have no idea what's in them. Chocolate? Gummy bears? Plus I saw a poster for a local festival featuring "music." I'm guessing ear plugs are in order.

Melissa Maygrove said...

Scare quotes that turned into scary quotes. LOL

Just in time for Halloween. ;)

Ava Jae said...

Ha ha, thanks! Yes, this is one that I've safely avoided—but you're right, there are loads of grammar myths out there.

Ava Jae said...

To be fair, a chocolate and gummy bear salad sounds kind of delicious (as long as there isn't any lettuce in there, that is). But that's pretty funny, in a sort of cringe-worthy way. :)

Ava Jae said...

lol! I wasn't thinking Halloween, but you're right—they are pretty terrifying.

Lauren said...

Can you use single quotation marks (not sure what they are called apostrophes??? wow I need to work on my punctuation skills) to note sarcasm and separate it from dialogue. For example: Storbridge was disciplined
and wasn’t afraid to use strong language in order to ‘encourage’ the men to
keep working.

Ava Jae said...

Hmm...so that's a good question. I haven't really seen that, but I'm definitely not a grammar expert. From what I've seen, single quotations (and if there's a technical term for those, I don't know it either) are used for a quote within a quote, like, "When I saw him, he said, 'I'll be right there.'" There could be other uses for it? I should probably look that up...

RoweMatthew said...

People really think that? I've never heard of that. Must be an American thing. Quote marks are always sarcasm. Emphasize is made with italics or bold.

Ava Jae said...

Yes, sadly, people do think that. *sigh*

Braden Russell said...

The Two Lifeboats sign is great fodder for my writerly brain as I begin to wonder just what exactly they could be serving behind those seemingly innocent cafe doors...

Ava Jae said...

I knew I had to include the Two Lifeboats sign—it also makes you wonder what they were serving before if they need a sign saying that they now serve "food"...

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