Inverted commas are one of the punctuation marks which are used indiscriminately by users, as a default option to emphasise anything and everything with the help of inverted commas or quotation marks. They are a special form of punctuation, used at precise places and not to be used indiscriminately. They have a well- defined purpose in language that needs to be understood by people, who want to perfect their language skills and those who use it indiscriminately.
According to the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, inverted commas, also called quotation marks or quotes are derived from the use of a special sign (the diple) in the margin of manuscripts to draw attention to part of the text (such as a biblical quotation); printers represented the marks by raised and inverted commas, and eventually placed them within the line; came to denote quotations and passages of direct speech.
1. Mark the beginning and end of direct speech
Inverted commas are used to mark the beginning and end of direct speech. In other words, inverted commas are used to denote a speaker’s words written exactly as they were spoken.
She asked, ‘What time will the train arrive?’
Rajiv asked him, ‘Where is your father?’
In this sense, inverted commas play an important role in the language, to quote the words spoken by someone exactly.
2. Focus on a word or phrase
Inverted commas are used to bring to focus a word or phrase that is being discussed, or that is being quoted from somewhere else, for instance, ‘What does ‘electric current’ mean? It is used to refer to a word as a word, for instance, I asked what he meant by the word “melancholy”.
3. Scare quote
Inverted commas are also used to draw attention to an unusual, ironic or arguably inaccurate use. It is used to indicate that the enclosed text is not the authors preferred terminology.
For instance, Thank you for that unhelpful ‘advice’.
Don’t listen to the “experts”, do what you think is right.
4. Mark the names of titles
Quotation marks are used to mark the names of titles of articles, poems, short stories,songs and TV shows, for instance, “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats and so on.
5. Quote within quotes
It is quite common to use quote within quote, for instance, He said, ‘My favourite poem is “Ode to the West Wind” by P.B. Shelley.’ In American English, the single quotation mark is used inside double quotation marks, for instance, He said, “My favourite poem is ‘Ode to the West Wind’ by P.B. Shelley.
Many people do not understand the use of inverted commas and tend to use it generously, leaving a bad impression. For instance, people writing business letters or other formal write ups use inverted commas to give emphasis, for instance, I know what I “should” be doing. Some people use it around expressions or common phrases, for instance, She “broke the ice” with him by asking his name. Such people expose their lack of knowledge of the basics of English.
Inverted commas, like other punctuation marks, play an important role in the language and need to be used wisely rather than indiscriminately.
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