Quotation (speech) marks to indicate alleged or so-called

The Quick Answer
Use quotation marks to denote so-called or to show that a word is not being used in its literal sense. Do not use the words so-called AND use quotation marks – that is tautology. Also, don't use quotation marks for emphasis.

Use Quotation Marks to Denote So-Called or Alleged

Quotation marks can be used to denote the idea of so-called, alleged, or supposed.

  • Peter's "mates" left him on the path to die.
  • (so-called mates)
  • Using his father's equipment, Alexander found over 50,000 bacteria on a "clean" chopping
  • (so-called clean)
  • The sheep were noticeably stressed. It must've been a very big "cat."
  • (In this example, the quotation marks play two roles. They show a quotation of somebody who claimed the culprit was a cat and also allude to the idea of a so-called cat.)

"rescue" – correct (it's not a real rescue)
(magazine article)

Use Quotation Marks to Denote Not Literally

Quotation marks can also be used to recognize when a word is not being used in its literal meaning. This happens quite often with personification (i.e., giving something a human trait). For example:
  • The waves "know" when you're about to stand up on the board.
  • (Clearly, waves cannot know things. The quotes are used to convey the idea of "not literally.")

See Also

Colon or comma before quotation (speech) marks? Punctuation inside or outside quotation (speech) marks? Quotation (speech) marks for ships, plays, books, etc. Double or single quotation (speech) marks?