Quotation Marks for "Alleged" or "So-called"

by Craig Shrives

Use Quotation Marks to Denote "So-Called" or "Alleged"

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

quotation marks for 'alleged,' 'so_called' and non-literal meaning
ICYMI: This young man's tattoo says jenius.

Examples of Quotation Marks for "So-Called" or "Alleged"

  • 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
    board.
  • (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 (like using "so-called").

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

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 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 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"
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

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?