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Quotation Marks for Emphasis

By emphasizing a message or emotion, your writing becomes more powerful. Emphasis holds weight in a sentence, especially in many types of formal writing. When and how to use quotation marks for this purpose?


Let's say Jane and Samantha are close friends, so they often spend time together. Jane has started suspecting that Samantha is ignoring her. The conversation might go something like this:

Jane: What did you do yesterday?
Samantha: I had a lot of work to do.
Jane: Yeah right.
Samantha: What?
Jane: Nothing. You seem to be busy with “secret military project” whenever I call you.

In this case, Jane doesn't believe that Samantha is actually busy. She is implying by the use of her quotation marks that her friend is lying to her.

Irony and Jargon

Quotation marks often indicate irony or scorn. In this capacity, they can be used instead of the expression so-called. Check the sentence below:

Her money was stolen by her “friend” and colleague.

Quotation marks are also used to demonstrate that the expression does not belong to the author. It’s just a part of the jargon.

She went on to say that, ever since she could remember, her “significant others” were musicians.

Technical or Uncommon Terms

A technical or uncommon term is placed into quotation marks when it is mentioned the first time in the text. Once it has been introduced, it is assimilated; quotation marks are not required after this.

We're big fans of "parallax". We like to offer a scrolling web design that allows users to view our page like a story that's unfolding. Now that we're parallax pros, we'll never go back to a generic site design.

Using quotation marks to emphasize particular words or phrases is wrong. After all, you can use scare quotes to demonstrate that you don't believe something. For example, if you don't like your friend’s drawing, you could say:

Your drawing is just "amazing."

But if you use quotation marks to emphasize something, people may think you're using scare quotes. As a result, the whole phrase will gain the wrong meaning.

The detective thinks this woman has been “murdered.” (Readers will probably think that the detective thinks the man hasn’t been murdered.)

Don’t go around putting quotation marks in every sentence or paragraph. This is not the only way to emphasize certain words and phrases.

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