These are sometimes known as 'quote marks.'
Sometimes they come in pairs, like the ones in the picture.
Sometimes there is just one.
"They go at the top of the line,"
I told them.
(Though the first set of these over-sized and bright red speech-marks are the wrong way round and won't be corrected.)
Speech marks are used to mark out something that someone actually said. They curve around and enclose the exact words that someone spoke.
Look at this sentence:
Mary told me that the school had burned down.
There are no speech marks, because it doesn't give the exact words that Mary said. It's what's called 'reported speech.' I am simply reporting to you the sense of what Mary said. I'm not giving you her exact words.
But if I tell you exactly what Mary said, then I give her words in speech-marks, like this --
Mary said to me, "The whole school has burned down! All of it!"
'I chose such men as had the Fear of God before them and made some conscience of what they did: and from that day forth, I say unto you, we were never beaten.'
Above is a quote from Oliver Cromwell, with bright red 'quote marks' enclosing it. Again, the first quote mark is the wrong way round and refuses to be corrected. I don't know why.
When you write an essay, you are expected to quote other people's words, to support your argument.
You might be quoting their words to show that they supported a cause, or that they wrote in a particular style.
When you 'quote' someone, you give the exact words they said or wrote.
You put quote marks around their exact words,to mark those words out. Above, I've marked out Cromwell's words, to make it clear that he said that, not me.
If you don't use quotation marks you might be suspected of trying to steal someone else's work and pass it off as your own.
It's considered good practice to always give credit where it's due and to make it very clear where you're using other people's words.
'I chose such men as had the Fear of God before them... and from that day forth, I say unto you, we were never beaten.'
You can see that in the edited quote above, I've put three dots to show that I've removed words from the quote. It's okay to do this, to save space -- but you should always make it clear that there are words missing.
You can also use speech marks -- or quote marks -- to pick out a word, or letter, and draw attention to it.
So I might write:
The letter 'e' is the most used letter in English. There are nine in this sentence alone!
Or I might write:
The little word 'set' has more meanings than any other word in the English
In the first sentence, I put quote marks around the 'e', to show that I am talking about the letter itself -- I'm not using it to spell
In the second sentence, I'm not using any of the meanings of the word 'set' -- I am talking about the word itself. So I pick the word out with quote marks.
Often speech marks are used to show that the writer doesn't really mean the word that they're using.
Imagine if someone borrowed something from you, and then didn't return it for a year, even though you keep asking them for it,
Finally, they bring it back, and act as if they're doing you a big favour.
You might say, sarcastically, "Oh, you're so kind."
Imagine the tone of voice you would say that in. You don't really think they're kind, and you don't want them to think you're pleased.
Well, that's the tone of voice that quote-marks sometimes mean.
Or they're used when the writer is a little embarrassed to be using those words -- or doesn't mean them.
Writers sometimes use them when they can't be bothered to think of better words. The quote marks are there to say something like, 'I don't think this is the best word to use but I can't think/can't be bothered to think/don't know another.'
This is not a good way to use quote marks.
Either use the words you thought of without quote marks -- or think of a better way of saying what you want to say.