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Quotation (speech) marks to indicate alleged or so-called

The Quick Answer
Use quotation marks to denote so-called or to show that a word is not being used in its literal sense. Do not use the words so-called AND use quotation marks – that is tautology. Also, don't use quotation marks for emphasis.

Use Quotation Marks to Denote So-Called or Alleged

Quotation marks can be used to denote the idea of so-called, alleged, or supposed.

Examples:
  • Peter's "mates" left him on the path to die.
  • (so-called mates)
  • Using his father's equipment, Alexander found over 50,000 bacteria on a "clean" chopping
    board.
  • (so-called clean)
  • The sheep were noticeably stressed. It must've been a very big "cat."
  • (In this example, the quotation marks play two roles. They show a quotation of somebody who claimed the culprit was a cat and also allude to the idea of a so-called cat.)


"rescue" – correct (it's not a real rescue)
(magazine article)

Use Quotation Marks to Denote Not Literally

Quotation marks can also be used to recognize when a word is not being used in its literal meaning. This happens quite often with personification (i.e., giving something a human trait). For example:
  • The waves "know" when you're about to stand up on the board.
  • (Clearly, waves cannot know things. The quotes are used to convey the idea of "not literally.")
Beware

Just Say It Once

Quotation marks can be used to indicate alleged or so-called. There is no need to use these actual words when using quotation marks for this purpose.
  • Peter's so-called "mates" left him on the path to freeze.
  • (In this example, so-called and the quotation marks are doing the same job. This is known as tautology.)
  • Peter's so-called mates left him on the path to freeze.
  • Peter's "mates" left him on the path to freeze.

Don't Use Quotation Marks for Emphasis

If you use quotation marks for emphasis, they might be read as meaning alleged or so-called. For example:
  • We sell "fresh" fish.

"clean" –