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Figures of Speech: Using Quotation Marks

By Judy Vorfeld

When should we use quo­ta­tion marks for fairly com­mon expres­sions and fig­ures of speech, includ­ing slang? (A fig­ure of speech is a word or phrase such as a metaphor, sim­ile, hyper­bole , or per­son­i­fi­ca­tion, accord­ing to Wikipedia.)

Quotation marks are rarely needed for com­mon expres­sions, says Chicago Manual of Style 16 (7.57). The only time we need to use them might be for phrases bor­rowed ver­ba­tim from another con­text (envi­ron­ment, set­ting) or for terms used ironically.

Writers often use “Scare quotes” (7.55) to let the reader know that a term is used in a non­stan­dard or spe­cial sense. CMS rec­om­mends using them rarely, as overuse can irri­tate the reader.

Note on works of phi­los­o­phy: some­times in such works, the writer uses sin­gle quo­ta­tion marks for spe­cial effect, but CMS dis­cour­ages its use because it usu­ally con­fuses the reader.


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