In the following opinion piece in the Spectator written by a Dutch author he uses single quotation marks to represent or highlight concepts rather than direct speech. Here are three example of him using single quotes:

This ‘stolen country’ paradigm has spread like wildfire

in hopes of solving the ‘native question’.

Many in the US seem to have no clue just how much of a ‘city on a hill’ the US is still perceived to be

The University of Oxford Style Guide doesn't reference this type of usage for single quotation marks but I did find a website that said:

it’s the convention in certain disciplines such as philosophy, theology, and linguistics to highlight words with special meaning by using single quotation marks

Can anyone reference an official style guide where this style of quotation marks is accepted? Maybe one written for Dutch writers if its a cultural usage or from a certain discipline like History.

  • Are you sure it was the author and not an editor that chose that style? Does the Spectator have its own style guide for authors perhaps? Jun 7, 2022 at 12:49
  • @killingTime Good idea, I try and contact the publication to get a better understanding of the their style guide. Jun 7, 2022 at 13:05

1 Answer 1


The practice is acknowledged in the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition, 7.58: Mixing single and double quotation marks:

In works of philosophy or other specialized contexts, single and double quotation marks are sometimes used to signal different things. For example, single quotation marks might be used for special terms and double quotation marks for their definitions. Chicago discourages such a practice, preferring a mix of italics, quotation marks, and parentheses instead.

The MLA Style Center blog also acknowledges their use (Quotes When Nothing Is Being Quoted). What Chicago and MLA have in common is that they both also discourage the use of single quotes in this manner. For individual publications, I would consult their internal style guide or their editor to understand their approach to a particular feature of writing.

  • 1
    Thanks, the book "Righting English that's gone Dutch" (pg. 43) also explains how the Dutch use single quote for scare quotes and to highlight words Jun 7, 2022 at 13:13
  • English writers do, too. Scare quotes are standard issue in all sciences; they (attempt to) distance the author from the implications, presuppositions, or political baggage associated with a particular phrase. I once published a paper that had scare quotes in its title, and commented on them in the paper. Jun 7, 2022 at 18:25

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