Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

You may have noticed that many of my Grammar 101 posts discuss pairs of words that sound similar but have very different meanings. This makes sense, because it is through the words that we communicate with one another. However, the meaning of a sentence can be completely altered by the use of punctuation too.

You might remember when we explored the power of the comma, for instance, or when we took at a look at how to use apostrophes. Today, we take a look at the mighty quotation mark. As common as it may be, it’s almost more common to see it used incorrectly. Do you know when and how use to use quotation marks?

In general, quotation marks serve precisely the purpose you think they serve: to indicate that the words contained within them are a direct quote. You might see it in a press release, for example.

“We are really proud about our new product,” said XYZ President John Doe. “It will completely change the way everyone does business online.”

Quotation marks are not reserved for full sentences. They can be used for single words or short phrases too, but the assumption still remains that they are the exact words spoken or written by someone else.

If you have a Facebook page, then you have “fans.” If you have a Twitter profile, then you have “followers.”

Where you really start to see quotation marks being used incorrectly is in signage and advertising. Perhaps you’ve been to a grocery store and saw something similar to this:

Fresh “organic” strawberries on sale

The problem with using quotation marks in this way is that it gives a sense that “organic” is being used sarcastically or ironically. If someone were to criticize a political group, he or she may write something like this:

These so-called “patriots” don’t care about our country; they only care about their own agendas.

In this example, the writer doesn’t think that members of the other political group are particularly patriotic at all. It’s meant to be sarcastic. If you want to be literal and genuine, it’s perhaps best to leave out the quotation marks.

Do you have a suggestion for a future Grammar 101 blog post topic? Let me know through the comment form below!