Quotation Marks for Sarcasm

by Craig Shrives

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Using Quotation Marks for Sarcasm

Quotation marks can be used to show sarcasm. More specifically, they can be used to convey the idea of "so-called," "alleged," or "supposed." When used for this purpose, quotation marks are sometimes referred to as scare quotation marks. For example:
  • Mark's "beautiful" riverside manor is a dump.
  • (Here, the quotation marks mean "so-called.")
Scare quotation marks are also used to show that a word in not being used in its literal sense.
  • The wind "knows" when you've unhitched the safety harness.
  • (The wind doesn't literally know.)
quotation marks for 'alleged,' 'so_called' and non-literal meaning
ICYMI: This young man's tattoo says jenius.

Examples of Quotation Marks for Sarcasm

  • Peter's "mates" left him on the path to die.
  • (This is an example of quotation marks used for sarcasm. It means so-called mates.)
  • Using his father's equipment, Alexander found over 50,000 bacteria on a "clean" chopping
    board.
  • (This means 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 someone's words and they portray sarcasm.)

The word "rescue" is in quotation marks to show it's not a genuine rescue.

Examples of Quotation Marks Meaning "Not Literally"

Quotation marks can also be used to recognize when a word is not being used in its literal sense. This happens quite often with metaphors, particularly 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.")

Just Say It Once

When quotation marks are used to indicate "alleged" or "so-called," there is no need to use these actual words.
  • Peter's so-called "mates" left him on the path to freeze.
  • (In this example, "so-called" and the quotation marks for sarcasm are doing the same job. This is known as tautology. You should trust your readers to know why you've used quotation marks.)
So, there are two options:
  • Peter's so-called mates left him on the path to freeze.
  • Peter's "mates" left him on the path to freeze.

Don't Use Quotation Marks for Emphasis

If you use quotation marks for emphasis, they might be read as meaning "alleged" or "so-called." For example:
  • We sell "fresh" fish.
bad use of quotation marks
"clean"

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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?

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