300 Days of Better Writing

June 5, 2014

Use quotes around words to draw special attention or when using them in a new or ironic way.

When you are using a word in a new way or you want to create ironic emphasis, you can place the word in quotes. This is the same as using “air quotes” while speaking. Generally, you do this to indicate that the meaning you are communicating is different than the usual meaning of a word. Consider this sentence.

“He tried to be ‘friendly’ with the woman seated next to him at the opera.”

The quotes around “friendly” indicate that you are communicating something other than normal friendliness. (Perhaps he tried to put his arm around her while pretending to stretch.)

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  1. I noticed you use “different than” in this post. Do you feel it is now acceptable and even preferable over “different from”?

    Comment by Laura — June 7, 2014 @ 7:51 am | Reply

  2. Acceptable, yes. Preferable, probably not in this case. “From” may have been a better choice here. Good catch.

    On the other hand, I can think of many cases in which “different than” is more appropriate. “Different than” has a long history, though I generally use “different from” for comparison of two things and “different than” to indicate degrees. “From,” as a preposition, is the better choice for indicating that one thing is not equal to another thing, that one thing differs from another. Still, I think “different than” has its uses.

    For example, in “The car is different than I though it would be,” “than” cannot be replaced by “from.” To use “from” here, we would need to revise the sentence somewhat, such as “The car is different from what I thought it would be.”

    You might be interested in this post by John McIntrye: http://grammarist.com/usage/different/

    Comment by preciseedit — June 7, 2014 @ 9:05 am | Reply

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