Using Quotation Marks for Emphasis

Quotation Marks

Two Uses for Quotation Marks

Like most punctuation marks, quotation marks have multiple uses. Their primary use is to enclose words quoted by another. Another common use is to show one or more words are being used in a non-standard way by enclosing them within quotation marks. This latter use of quotation marks is the subject of this post.

Quotation Marks with Sentence Ending Punctuation

Using quotation marks to indicate one or more words are being used ironically or for emphasis is a time-honored technique. It’s simple to do, effectively draws attention to the word(s), and tells readers the word(s) are being used in a special way. But there’s a problem when a quotation-enclosed word is at the end of a sentence. How should the final quotation mark be used with the sentence’s ending punctuation?

When quotation marks are being used for emphasis, style guides generally agree question marks and exclamation points go outside the ending quotation mark.

  • For night owls, arising in the early morning can be “strange”!
  • Have you ever dreamed you were floating in “space”?

Ending Quotation Marks and Periods

Unfortunately, whether the final quotation mark goes in front or behind a sentence ending period is not so easy. For example, which of the two sentences below is correct?

  1. The period should be “here.”
  2. The period should be “here”.

The short answer is Yes! Which should be used depends on the style used by the publisher. The primary style guide in journalism is the Associated Press Style Guide. It recommends option 1.

For the book, magazine, and general purpose writing industry, the most authoritarian U.S. style guide is the Chicago Manual of Style. Of the two choices, it prefers option 2, but it recommends sidestepping the problem by using formatting to emphasize the word as shown below:

The ending punctuation should be here.

Using bold or italic type nicely draws attention to the word, and avoids the problem by not using quotation marks at all.

Change Your Habit

If your habit is to use quotation marks to draw attention to words, you might want to change your habit. Most of the time, when the word you want to emphasize is at the beginning or middle of a sentence, using quotation marks is no problem. But, when the word is the last word in a sentence, using quotation marks to show non-standard use can jar readers if they see the period in what they consider to be the wrong place.

As Writing Jim, Jim Driggers  provides copywriting and business process writing to owners of small- and medium-sized businesses. His clients gain sales through marketing text that better resonates with their customers, and they save money when their employees follow guides rather than impulses. His clients give themselves the time to focus on what they do well when they leave their writing to Writing Jim.

For copywriting help with your print or online content, contact Writing Jim at [email protected] or 925-231-5825. Visit for more information.

If you care, share.

One Response to Using Quotation Marks for Emphasis

  1. really helpful. I look forward to your blogs…yours is the only one I look forward to because I always learn something