Writing for Business - A Whatis.com Blog

Aug 23 2012   12:07PM GMT

The irony of using quotation marks for emphasis

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which would you use to advertise a sale?
a. “Excellent” deals on new and used iPhones!
b. Excellent deals on new and used iPhones!
c. Excellent deals on new and used iPhones!



Answer: b. or c.

Explanation:
If you want to emphasize the word excellent, you want to do just about anything but put it in quotation marks. Really. The use of italics is standard but you can underline, bold, use a different color — do what it takes, if you feel a word needs a little extra oomph. Just don’t do what many small-business people do — put the words they want to shout in quotation marks.

It’s quite ironic: People often use quotation marks to add emphasis to certain words but they’re actually subverting their intended meaning. Quotation marks around words can instruct the reader to think the words mean something other than what they say. It’s like adding a wink to your statement, so people know you’re kidding. If your message is that your iPhone sale is excellent, you don’t want to write that it’s “excellent.”

Want more information? The Yahoo! Style Guide provides an excellent (no quotes!) entry about when to use — and when not to use — quotation marks.

Amused by grammar gaffes? The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks is always good for a giggle.

Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

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