The Write Stuff – Blog

Aug 22 2011 Using Quotation Marks “Correctly”
Using quotation marks correctly

Which I’ve failed to do in my title – but it seems there’s an increasing trend for incorrectly using quotation marks to emphasise words.  

Of course, the most obvious use of quotation marks is to encapsulate speech within text, for example:  

A chicken walks into a bar; the bartender says “We don’t serve poultry.”

“That’s OK”, says the chicken “I just want a beer.”  

However, quotation marks can also be used to suggest irony or alternate meanings, for example:  

The bank proved how “generous” they were by raising the interest rate by just 1% this week.  

Miriam suspected that her new neighbour might be a “lady of the night”.  

In the first example, the word “generous” is used ironically to suggest sarcasm. By using quotation marks, the sentence implies the bank is anything but generous in their actions.  

In the second example, Miriam actually suspects her new neighbour may be a prostitute (*gasp*), but would rather distance herself from such a term and use one she finds more palatable (Miriam should probably find another hobby instead of spying on her neighbours!)

While the above examples indeed use quotation marks to add emphasis to certain words or phrases, this theory should not apply to words for which the literal meaning is intended to remain the same (unless of course you are referring to the word as an actual word.)

Consider the following examples; when you apply the above rules, the implications are somewhat confusing at best!

Punctuation - using quotation marks right

Using quotation marks to convince me you’re using a “perfectly good airplane” curiously  has the opposite effect!

Quotation marks - getting them right

Fresh brown “eggs”. Is that what you call them? They sound a little suspect to me.

Incorrectly used quotation marks

One can only hazard a guess at what their “food” is and how much the “free” chips & salsa really cost.

How to use quotation marks

Mobile phones and cheat sheets fully endorsed. Who knows, one day you may all become “honest” politicians and car salesmen.

Quotation marks used incorrectly

Translation: Please note: There are trained monkeys sleeping behind this curtain. Please don’t light up your joint next to it. Whatever..!

Using quotation marks correctly

Actually, we’ll make it seem as though we’ve repaired the problem you were having with your phone, but tamper with something else so it breaks and you have to come back to us for more “repairs”. Mwahaha…!

As you can see, using quotation marks for emphasis where the literal interpretation of the word is not intended to change, can have quite detrimental effects on your copy.

DON’T DO IT!

If you need to add emphasis to your text, use italics, bold font, capitals, or underlining (unless you’re writing web copy) – but PLEASE – leave the quotation marks out of it!!  

Now excuse me while I enjoy a cup of “tea” (interpret that how you please!)

Posted in Copywriting Tips by 7 comments

7 Responses to “Using Quotation Marks “Correctly””

  • Reply Kelly Exeter August 22, 2011at 3:07 am

    Phew – I was a bit worried as I have been using quotation marks incorrectly when using them to be ironic!!  Happy to hear that it is ok to do so :)
    Anna do you have a post about the correct use of ‘single quotation marks’ (or whatever they are called?!)

    • Reply Anna Butler August 22, 2011at 3:26 am

      By all means, continue using quotation marks to emphasise your sarcasm :)

      In the  meantime, I’ve not yet written a blog on single vs double quotation marks (but I’ll pop that in my ideas file – thanks!), however single quotation marks are generally used when using a quote within a quote:

      “That’s when she said to me ‘We’ll be having tacos for dinner’, which is great. I love tacos.”

      Some people use single quotes for quoting speech, but personally I find it can be a little confusing:

      She said ‘she could’, I said ‘she couldn’t.’ (See how the apostrophe and quotation mark after the “t” look odd?)

      Both double and single quotation marks can also be used when referring to titles:

      I loved “Lord of the Rings”
      I loved ‘Lord of the Rings’

      However, italics are also acceptable for titles:

      I loved, Lord of the Rings

      Generally, as long as you are consistent, you should be OK.

  • Reply Nicole Leedham August 25, 2011at 8:47 am

    Thanks for the laugh. Now you’ve inspired me to start taking photos of my own pet hate – incorrect usage or apostrophes!

    • Reply Anna Butler August 25, 2011at 8:52 am

      Oh… I saw a corker the other day! Wish I could remember where. You would have loved it :D (meanwhile, I’ve not had the heart to photograph my local butcher’s  “smoked” “chicken” wings sign… it felt a little mean-spirited.)

      • Reply Nicole Leedham August 25, 2011at 8:55 am

        My favorite is a local van with the words “Clear Cut Blind’s” written in about 300pt on the side.  I keep wanting to ask, “Clear cut Blind’s what?”

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Resources
  • img-arrow Professional Partners
    Professional Partners Exclusive network of graphic designers, web designers, printers, production houses and other.
  • img-book Terms & Conditions
    Terms & Conditions For more information about working with Copybreak Copywriting Services check out the FAQs page.
  • img-pencil Project Brief
    Project Brief For a comprehensive copywriting quote, download and complete the project brief to get the ball rolling.
  • img-puzzle 9-Letter Word Puzzle
    9-Letter Word Puzzle One of my favourite ways to keep my brain sharp is with puzzles and games. 9-letter word puzzles are one of my faves!