I very often notice that speakers who want to transport what would be quotation marks in written, very often speak the quotes at the "wrong" position. That is, someone who wants to say

yada yada "something"

might formulate this as

yada yada quote unquote something

or possibly as

yada yada something quote unquote

In fact, I think I have heard the "correct" way

yada yada quote something unquote

only very seldom. Is there a reason for that (i.e., is the "wrong" order idiomatic)?

  • 1
    I don't think it's "wrong", it's just an idiomatic way to say "there are quote marks around the next thing I am going to say".
    – stangdon
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 21:16
  • Yes, unless some uses air quotes. And those usually go at what would be the opening of the quotes in written form....He said the speaker had said the tycoon [air quotes: hold up two hands with the index finger and third finger "drawing quotes"" in the air] was really quite poor.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 23:10
  • @stangdon Wiktionary says it's a possible eggcorn of "end quote". I won't be undeleting my answer—too much of a bother FWIW. Let's keep on being able to care less.
    – user68912
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 23:14
  • Related: ell.stackexchange.com/a/29012/230
    – user230
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 23:21
  • Also related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/7348/…
    – user68912
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 23:25

1 Answer 1


In normal spoken English one does not speak the names of any punctuation. The intended meaning in spoken language is carried by inflection, tone, pauses and so on.

One use of quotes marks in written English is the so-called "scare quotes". These are used to indicate irony. Example (from wiktionary)

Maybe you should ask your "friend" what happened to the money.

It suggests that the person is not a real friend. The use the word is ironic.

In speech that could be indicated by tone, or by a modifier phrase

You should ask your so-called friend...

Modifiers in English normally go before the noun. One way of indicating irony is to speak the quotation marks, but as a modifier before the noun

You should ask your quote-unquote friend...

Putting quote-unquote together in front of the noun fits better with the normal English pattern of adjective before noun. The expression is not actually indicating punctuation, but has the same function as "so-called"

If a longer phrase is actually being quoted then normally no words are required, the start of the quote and its end are implied by the context.

Finally remember, English is a natural language, and sometimes there is no logical reason for something.

  • I beg to differ—there is a logical reason here (and telling learners there is no logical reason for something just confuses them). Yes, they are replacing "so-called". This is the logic. It is there. It isn't something completely random.
    – user68912
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 21:58
  • 1
    The OP's suggestion is equally "logical". There is no way that you could work out, a priori that the English expression would be quote-unquote. There is a reason that can be given a posteriori, but that is not logical reasoning, just an ad hoc explanation. Language does not follow logical rules, it follows grammar rules and those rules can only be discovered by observation, not by logic. Many of the misconceptions about English come from trying to apply logical reasoning to the grammar of a natural language.
    – James K
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 22:08
  • Well, yes, of course, it is not reasoning whereby you take a proposition and spin a yarn of what necessarily follows out of it. Nothing in language follows "necessarily". This is not a case of "following the rules of logic" (Aristotelian, Hegelian, or whatnot). It is a case of "having a logic". (I'm using a language way of using "logic" ;). ) 95% of people are not aware of THE logic and can't follow why their everyday reasoning might violate its laws. However, they construct a logic of something.
    – user68912
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 22:14
  • Besides, we could argue about the semantics of "no logical reason". There is a reason that people are using something in a certain way. Unfortunately, by the same "language logic", what you have said might be taken to mean "there is no good explanation". There is one. You've provided it.
    – user68912
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 23:04
  • @JamesK It is very refreshing on this site to see recognition that the English language is defined by the language as it is spoken and not by rules invented by grammarians. At best those rules are hypotheses that, on a good day, might explain how native speakers of the language say what they do. I realise that this fact is not at all helpful to anyone wanting to learn the rules of English, and on this site we must all try to help learners. But I do not believe that they are helped by rules that have no basis other than theories based on observation.
    – JeremyC
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 23:30

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .