Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Writing Wednesday: Don't quote me

Unfortunately, signs like this one are all too common in America, and it is my solemn duty as a writer to stop this madness. Seriously. Let's start by talking about a few purposes of quotation marks:
  • Quotation marks are used to designate dialogue.
  • Quotation marks can set off (what else?) quotes or famous sayings.
  • Quotation marks show sarcasm or designate words that currently have a different meaning in the sentence. (Dumb example: Lindsay was "reading" her textbook when her mom checked to see if she'd turned the TV off.)

Now, here are a few ways not to use quotation marks:
  • Don't use quotation marks to set off a random phrase in the middle of a sentence, like the "on a stick" phrase above. Doing this instantly lowers your credibility, and it also inadvertently changes the meaning of your sentence. My favorite example of this is? I worked in the produce section of a grocery store and the manager would put out a sign that said "Fresh" corn. Putting quotation marks around the word fresh makes it appear that the corn is not actually fresh.
  • Don't use quotation marks around common phrases in cards or letters. This point is basically the same as the one above, but I laugh really hard when I get cards that say "Happy birthday" or "Thank you" because the person has no idea that by writing quotes they are wishing me a very insincere birthday — or are not grateful at all for that wedding gift. I also love it when I get emails from people that say I really appreciate your "help." So you're implying that I wasn't actually helping you?
  • Don't use quotation marks to set off a single word unless you want the sarcastic meaning that comes with it. Those signs you see at the pool that read Showering is "required" before entering the swimming pool? With the quotation marks tacked on, it turns out that showering is really just optional.

I think quotation mark mistakes are easier to spot visually, which is why I was so excited to find this hilarious blog called Unnecessary Quotes that posts pictures of real-life quotation mark fiascos. Check it out — and let me know your thoughts about quotation marks. Do you struggle with knowing when to use them?


  1. What about people gesturing quotation marks in the air? Very annoying.

    Off topic...I really enjoyed your favorite show last night. I'm afraid to name it, since I'm not sure if I should use quotation marks or not. Haha.

    1. By the way, I have email now. :-)

      I need a comma lesson, by the way.

  2. You're so right Lindsay and I feel like I see signs with spelling and grammar errors all the time. I was a journalism major in college and everything was so strict and now that I have a blog I feel like I forget some of the rules sometimes. Good for you showing how to properly use quotations.


  3. I'll never forget this shirt in high school:

    Enough "said"

    What the?????
    I refused to buy one, hehe.

  4. Quotation marks don't confuse me but asterisks do - it seems like people are using them for the same kind of emphasis they are trying to (wrongly) get out of quotation marks. I know it's trendy, so maybe there isn't an official rule attached to them, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

    On a related note, one of the problems with people using quotations marks the wrong way is that no one gets the sarcasm when it is intended. For example, my husband and I just got back from St. George, and I wanted to tell people we stayed at the "Quality" Inn because it, shall we say, left much to be desired. But I was afraid everyone would miss the sarcasm and actually think it was a quality experience! :-)


Thanks for sharing your beautiful thoughts! I love reading them.