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What is the best way to mention a word: italics, quotes, or single-quotes (apostrophes)?

Would it make a difference whether I put a word in quotes or in italics?

Is this... - Yesterday, I saw an interesting type of flower called an "eggplant" ...the same as this? - Yesterday, I saw an interesting type of flower called an eggplant

Here is another example...

The word "apple" is a noun. Vs. The word apple is a noun.

Also, are "s the same as 's?

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All depends from your editor or from your manual of style. –  user19148 Jul 30 '12 at 18:37
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@jwpat7 I'm asking What the difference is. –  J. Walker Jul 30 '12 at 21:36
    
J. Walker, I hope your question was answered, either by Jesse M's answer here, or by answers to linked questions, which I think adequately cover use of “"” quotes vs. ‘'’ quotes. Whether using quotes vs italics makes a difference is context-dependent but some answers address that too. –  jwpat7 Aug 5 '12 at 5:34
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marked as duplicate by jwpat7, Lynn, Carlo_R., KitFox, Jim Jul 30 '12 at 19:35

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1 Answer

up vote 3 down vote accepted

In the examples you cited, both the quotes and the italics are being used for emphasis-- they're drawing attention to a specific term that you want the reader to distinguish. In that case, both are fairly interchangeable, though each will read better in a different situation.

Italics are generally used for emphasis, or to draw attention to a special term e.g. the title of a book, a foreign language word used in English, and in dialogue, a word or phrase that is spoken forcefully. Quotes are used to, well, quote what someone said, or to draw attention to a specific word, normally one whose usage might be a little odd in that scenario or may not be familiar to the reader.

In the case you cited, I would actually recommend single quotation marks:

Yesterday, I saw an interesting type of flower called an 'eggplant'.
The word 'apple' is a noun.

Since double quotation marks are more often reserved for dialogue or a direct quotation. In the first case, the reason you're using the quotes is because you're assuming the reader may not be familiar with the term 'eggplant'. Be careful with this, as it can look a little silly to put quotations around a term that's actually well-known:

I found out about this cool thing called the 'Internet'.

Think of Dr. Evil and his 'laser' beam. Anyway, in the second example, you're using quotes to ensure that the reader knows you're referring to the word 'apple' alone. It's a helpful convention for explaining or describing things. It can avoid confusion, like in the following example:

The password is apple backwards.
VS
The password is 'apple' backwards.

The first phrase is ambiguous; the reader might think that the password is actually 'apple backwards'. But in the second case, it's clear that the password is 'elppa'.

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“Surely you jest!” he explained. No, you should not use different punctuation for “scare-quotes” as you use for “speech-quotes” — unless they’re embedded. He repeated, ‘No, you should not use different punctuation for “scare-quotes” as you use for “speech-quotes” — unless they’re embedded.’ And she replied, “No, you should not use different punctuation for ‘scare-quotes’ as you use for ‘speech-quotes’ — unless they’re embedded.” –  tchrist Jul 30 '12 at 19:57
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+1 for the Dr. Evil reference, but wasn't it a two fingered/double quoted "laser"? youtu.be/voSpOrimkMY –  w3d Jul 30 '12 at 22:07
    
This is true, he did use both fingers for his "laser", probably because the single-quote hand gesture never really caught on for some unfathomable reason. –  Jesse M Jul 31 '12 at 12:02
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