When to Put Quotation Marks Around a Single Word

Quotation marks around single words can occasionally be used for emphasis, but only when quoting a word or term someone else used. Usually, this implies that the author doesn’t agree with the use of the term.

He said he was “working”; it looked to me like he was procrastinating.

You call this filthy room “clean”?!

When quotation marks are put around a word in this way, they are called scare quotes.

The rules for using quotation marks around a single word for emphasis have changed since people began using word processors for their writing. If a word needs to be emphasized but is not being quoted, you should avoid putting the word in quotes and use italics instead. If you are writing by hand or using a typewriter, you can use quotation marks for emphasis to separate a certain word from the rest of the sentence—for example, when you are writing about words as words:

“They’re,” “their,” and “there” are easily confused because they’re homophones.

“Cool” can refer to temperature, or it can mean something is good; “sweet” is also a slang term for “good.”

For further information on using quotation marks, check out our article Quotation Marks: Grammar Rules.

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  • Erick Altimari

    Slight debate here with a headline which read,

    Is Earth a “Alien” Prison Planet?

    I say that it is correct as is but a friend said the article should have used the article “an” instead. Any suggestions?

    • Nicholas Ferreira

      Definitely “an.” Quotation marks do not affect which indefinite article to use, or how words are pronounced.

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