Here’s a sentence in an email from a friend. What do you think of his use of quotation marks?
[Tom] spent the summer in Buenos Aires doing a practicum with the poor, ensuring clean water is getting to their “shanty” homes.
If these people are poor and living in Buenos Aires, their homes are shanties. But the use of quotation marks indicates that they really aren’t. The word “shanty” is certainly not being quoted. Calling attention to a word by putting it in quotes is not an acceptable use.
• Use quotation marks around words actually spoken or written by someone.
• Use quotation marks when you are using a word in a manner that is not literal. For example, you could write that the previous American Embassy in Moscow was found to be full of “bugs.” Your reader will then know that you are not referring to cockroaches and that “bugs” is slang for listening devices.
Every day I see quotation marks misused. Painted on a plumber’s truck is information telling me he has been “in business since 1973.” No one ever said that. Misused quotation marks are a distraction. Don’t annoy your readers.