This strip of Dinosaur Comics made me wonder whether it is appropriate to use quotation marks (in the terms of the comic) "as a not in the full sense of the word" lingual marker.

Searching Google, I found a Daily Writing Tips blog entry that indicates quotation marks can express irony. The Wikipedia article on "Irony Punctuation", however, indicates that no standard way to denote irony or sarcasm in English. It mentions "scare quotes," which seem to be closest to meaning that the word or phrase was not intended to have its full meaning, but scare quotes carry the risk of ambiguity - how do you distinguish between a properly quoted phrase and a phrase that means something differently?

Is there an established, unambiguous punctuation that suggests that the enclosed or referenced phrase does not have its full meaning?


3 Answers 3



Quotes in writing almost always suggest literal quotation. Scare quotes in writing are used extremely infrequently and even then only the context of quotes gives them this special meaning. For example, the phrase "so-called" often precedes scare quotes to imply that the enclosed phrase term is misused. However, in speaking air quotes are almost always meant ironically.

In informal writing, like social networking posts or emails, some people use the winking emoticon ;-) or ;) to indicate sarcasm or irony. For example:

I just puked my brains out after going to Happy Burgers. It's the best restaurant ever ;-).


Grammar Girl says:

Use Single Quotation Marks to Highlight Words Not Being Used for Their Meaning

It's the convention in certain disciplines such as philosophy, theology, and linguistics to highlight words with special meaning by using single quotation marks instead of double quotation marks.

This site gives an example and a further guideline:

In some fields, key terms may be set apart with single-quote marks. In such cases, periods and commas go outside the single-quote marks:

  • Sartre's treatment of 'being', as opposed to his treatment of 'non-being', has been thoroughly described in Kaufmann's book.

Absolutely. Single quotation marks indicate irony, but double quotation marks also indicate irony. Oddly enough, the best explanation for usage is to be found on the American Psychological Association website.in an article entitled, 'Qootation Mark Uses Other Than Quotes', by "Stephanie."

Example: I 'loathe' a good ice cream sundae.

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