It’s “No” Problem!
For such a common punctuation mark, the quotation mark is responsible for many, many mistakes. Some of them are confusing. Some of them are funny. But we encounter them on a daily basis, so it’s time to learn how to use them correctly! Here are three correct ways to use quotation marks, and one incorrect way.
Quotation marks are to be used…
When you’re defining a term for the first time. Simply put the word(s) in quotation marks and then explain what it is. Example: An “example” is a specimen; it is an instance that serves as a model for other instances.
To set off quotations. Whenever you’re repeating what somebody said verbatim, use quotation marks. And remember that when you’re quoting within a quote, you use single quotation marks. Example: “She said ‘don’t quote me on that,’ but I’m going to,” said Clark.
To indicate irony. Use quotations marks to indicate that the word is being used in a way exactly opposite of its intended meaning. Example: At her mother’s great insistence, Meg “volunteered” to be part of the cleanup crew. (In this case it’s clear from the quotation marks around “volunteered” that Meg did not, in fact, volunteer for the cleanup crew, and that her mother forced her to be on it. We can even infer that she’s not happy about it. If the marks weren’t there, we might read this and think that Meg did, in fact, listen to her mother and volunteer to be a part of the crew.)
Quotations marks are not to be used…
To emphasize words. That’s what italics, underlining, and boldface are for. Quotation marks should not be used to add emphasis to important words or phrases, because they will often be read as being ironic when they are not. Example: We sell “meat pies”! (Why don’t they sell meat pies? What exactly are “meat pies”? Is that term a euphemism for something else that has nothing to do with meat and nothing to do with pies? Yikes.)
Misuse of the quotation mark to emphasize words can lead to some very funny mistakes; in fact, there’s a whole blog devoted to them.