Have you ever seen quotes (“) being used in ways that don’t quite make sense? Emphasis quotes are an absurd use of quotes around a word, phrase, or sentence. The writer intends to use quotes to “emphasize” the important words, but quotes don’t exactly work that way. We’re not sure when this new trend of quoting-for-emphasis started, but even native English speakers make this mistake!
So how do quotes work? These are the four most common and acceptable ways:
1. To indicate a word-for-word quotation (of someone’s speech)–He said, “I will see you tomorrow.”
2. To indicate the title of a book chapter, a TV episode, a song or a poem, or a short published work (like a short
story or article)–Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” was her first worldwide hit.
3. To indicate very technical terms–When whales jump out of the water, it’s called “breaching.”
4. To indicate sarcasm (the use of words to mean the opposite or different of what you really mean, usually in
order to be funny, offensive, or to show irritation)–Mark “studied” for the test all night. (And by “studied,”
I mean he watched TV and hung out with his girlfriend instead.)
Quotes with sarcasm are commonly spoken using air quotes with your fingers! See Dr. Evil’s example from the film Austin Powers here.
Now that you know the rules, how do the misused quotes in the images below change the meaning? Remember that quotes can also be used for sarcasm (#4)!