Air Quotes: Dear Sexy G

Dear Sexy Grammarian,

I would like to know about quote marks.  Do you have a post about that already?  In particular, I use quotes like air-quotes, you know, to acknowledge that a word is being used out of context or in a circumspect way (like either I intentionally used it incorrectly or I don’t believe the word I’m using so I’m adding some sort of sarcasm).  I guess that’s it!  I use those air-quotes to indicate sarcasm in my writing, just like I would when I speak.

Anyway, punctuation on those is also difficult, especially if they end a sentence or a clause.  The sarcasm really doesn’t extend to the punctuation for me, so I treat those air-quotes differently than I treat actual quotation marks, meaning that I usually put the punctuation on the outside of them (instead of inside, where they belong).  My question: do air quotes deserve the same authority as proper quotation marks?



To my beloved Norman,

When we use air quotes in speech or ironic quotation marks in writing we convey sarcasm or irony, just as you explain so well. But as punctuation marks, these ironic quotes carry no less weight than any other use of a quotation mark. So use the same rules of punctuation, whether your quotation marks convey dialogue or irony.

That is, put the comma or period inside quotation marks, though, as E.B. White lovingly wrote on the subject, “logically it often seems not to belong there.”

What she called “erotica” I called porn.

Let’s not have sex. Let’s just be “friends.”

When I told her to “bring the sexy,” I didn’t mean the whole dildo collection.

And yes, at Sexy Grammar, we’ve got several free lessons on punctuation and dialogue and quotation marks. Check out these naughty posts on dialogue tags, direct objects, and predicate nominatives.


The Sexy G

Frequently, a client or online fan shares a burning grammar question, and I always post answers here on the blog.  If you have a question, don’t hesitate to write to me. Looking for more attention? Get affordable, project-focused private sessions in person or via Skype or email.

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