Briana’s Writing Tips: Using Quotation Marks Correctly

Driving to the store recently and seeing a sign for “fresh” fruit and “cold” watermelon was enough to make me cringe. The signs with a limit of “10” at the grocery store made me sigh. I’m not sure when people stopped knowing how to use quotes correctly, but it’s happening everywhere.

There are two times when you should use quotation marks. One is when you’re quoting what another person wrote or said. The second is to indicate irony or sarcasm. Quotation marks are not supposed to be used for emphasis. In my examples above, they were used wrong, and to a smart reader, that gives them a whole different meaning.

Some examples of correct use:

Bonnie said, “I’m not going with you.” and made Jack cry. [Quoting what a person said.]

I was so “sad” for her loss. [Indicating sarcasm, I wasn’t really sad.]

Bob said the word “shoulda” and I said “should have.” [Quoting Bob and the speaker.]

Examples of incorrect use:

“Fresh” fruit sold here! [This would mean that the fruit isn’t really fresh.]

Limit “10” per customer [This would mean the limit might be 10, or it might not.]

To make things simple, never use quotation marks for emphasis. If you want to emphasize something, you can use, bold, italics, or *asterisks*. (Asterisks are a known substitute for italics in instances when italics aren’t possible.)

If you’re not careful, misusing quotes could make people angry, hurt feelings or offend readers. Being aware of the simple rules can save you a lot of heartache later on.

Quotes can also be used to make an example: “Don’t” is a contraction of do not, and “going to” is better grammar than “gonna.”

Oh, another tip about quotes that I always had trouble with is where to put the punctuation. If your sentence ends in a quote, the punctuation goes inside the quote, not outside.

He was walking away when he said “Until we meet again.”

If it’s a quote inside a sentence, you use it inside and at the end.

Bonnie said, “I’m not going with you.” which made Jack cry.

I hope that helps you folks avoid any unpleasant situations that might arise from using quotes the wrong way.


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