“Dialogue punctuation?” he asked, “But why?”

It is Wednesday and we are returning to Grammarland: the magical place of punctuation rules, tips on language usage, and other useful tools for writers.  Today we are reviewing correct dialogue punctuation.

First, the anatomy a dialogue sentence:

You are excited to read this post about punctuation,” he said.

The red is the dialogue (duh!)

The blue is the tag line or attribution and specifies who is doing the speaking.

The green highlights the punctuation

Rule #1: Use a comma between the dialogue and tag line, inside the quotes

Rule #2:  If your speaker asks a question or speaks with emphasis the question mark or exclamation point belong within the quotes.  The tag is not capitalized

Why did the chicken cross the road?” she asked the farmer.

When the speaker is not asking the question, the question mark belongs outside of the quotes.

Did he say the words,I love you“?

Rule #3: Don’t end a sentence with double punctuation.  In the example above there is no period after “I love you” because the question mark is stronger.  Exclamation and question are stronger that commas or periods.

Rule #4:  At times the tag line interrupts the sentence.  When this happens the tag line is set off by commas.

I like traffic lights,” she sang along to the radio, “especially when they’re green!”

Rule #5: Use single quotes to signal a quote within a quote.

No silly, he said, ‘I loathe you,’ then he kissed her,” she answered.

Rule #6: You can use italics for interior dialogue as long as you stay consistent.

She ran around the room grabbing clothes and shoving them into a bag. I can’t believe he did this to me again.

Rule #7: The quotation ends when the speaker finishes talking.  Don’t be tempted to stick a close quote at the end of a paragraph just because the speaker is long-winded.  You do need to place an open quote at the beginning of the sentence so it is not confused with narration.

Rule #8: New speaker = new paragraph.   Always.

Rule #9:  Dialogue embedded within a sentence follows the same rules as embedded tags, and are off by commas.

He cried, “I know the secret now,” and threw himself off the bridge.

Rule #10: You can insert action phrases or descriptions in place of tags but they cannot be fragments.  Including a tag negates the need for a complete sentence.

Correct: He threw the book across the room. “I hate it when they keep using adverbs!”

Incorrect: Throwing the book, “I hate bad adverbs.”

Solution: Throwing the book he shouted, “I hate bad adverbs.”





About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, was published in November 2018 and rereleased in Jan 2020. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.
This entry was posted in Grammarland and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “Dialogue punctuation?” he asked, “But why?”

  1. Paula says:

    Great tips! Many, many years ago between Jr. & Sr. yrs. in college, I went to Katharine Gibbs School (secretarial/administrative ass’t. school) in New York City for 8 months. I went because I didn’t think I would make it as an actress/singer right away, and felt I would need back-up jobs for a couple of months before I made it big! LOL Anyway, we were tutored very strenuously in grammar and especially punctuation! The one rule that helped me the most (I had a dispute with a boss one day and was proved right) is the one about only one mark per end of sentence, i.e. ending a sentence with etc. does not require an additional period – nor does a.m. or p.m., etc.

  2. nrhatch says:

    Well, I’m glad we cleared that up!

    Great examples, Jo.

    • tsuchigari says:

      I strive to go where no one really wants to go, lucky me. Funny thing, while I was writing and coming up with examples I wanted to go back and make stories out of them. Maybe I will . . .

  3. Pingback: Weekly Review #16 « My Literary Quest

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s