The UVic Writer's Guide


Quotation Marks Used To Modify The Meaning


One common (but incorrect) usage of single quotation marks is to indicate that a word is used in a modified--often ironic--sense, or that the writer recognises that it is slang. It is usually best to avoid this technique altogether, but if you must use it, double quotation marks are required.

Effective:

Speed [of walking] is limited not by muscle power but by the length of the legs. . . . This is why little children have to break into a run to keep up with their parents, and why people on crutches can walk surprisingly fast--their "legs" extend from their armpits to the ground. (Ingram 93)

Inept:

You may have seen this kind of sign at the supermarket. While seeking emphasis, the sign proclaims that the fish is not really fresh.

In most cases a well-constructed sentence can make irony clear without shouting--which is the effect of putting a word in quotation marks. Similarly, the use of quotes to indicate a word that is considered slang is counterproductive--it draws attention to the fact that you have been unable to find an appropriate word, rather than making the slang acceptable.


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Copyright, The Department of English, The University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated April 20, 1995