How To Use Punctuation In Dialogue

How To Use Punctuation In Dialogue


Ways to Denote Dialogue

There are generally four accepted ways to show dialogue when you write. They are:

  1. Single inverted commas/quotation marks
  2. Double inverted commas/quotation marks
  3. The dash
  4. Nothing

Examples:

  1. ‘I’m tired,’ she said.
  2. “I’m tired,” she said.
  3. -I’m tired, she said.
  4.  I’m tired, she said.

We advise against using the ‘nothing’ method when you introduce dialogue. You need to be a skilled writer to get away with this.

If the dialogue stands as a complete sentence, punctuation must be inside the quotes:

  1. Dennis wasn’t interested in new evidence. ‘We’ve shown Huff killed her,’ he said. ‘Why are we wasting time?’
  2. ‘I can’t believe he did that,’ said Jennifer. ‘Bloody men!’

If the dialogue is a fragment within a complete sentence, punctuation must be outside the quotes:

  1. Dennis wasn’t interested in new evidence, adding ‘we’ve shown Huff killed her’, and asking why they were wasting time.
  2. I looked at Jennifer in the rear view mirror. She mumbled, ‘bloody men’, turned over and passed out.

Please note that we use UK English at Writers Write. Some of these rules may differ if you use American English. The important thing is to be consistent. Usage also depends on the style guide you use. [Read What Is A Style Guide And Why Do I Need One?]

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by Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this article, read these posts:

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  2. The Ellipsis
  3. Semicolons and Colons
  4. Between you and me
  5. Commonly confused abbreviations: etc., i.e., e.g.
  6. Hyphens & Dashes
  7. What is a sentence fragment?
  8. That or Which – Which one should I use?
  9. Begin at the end – the one essential email trick every business writer should know
  10. Apostrophes Explained
  11. 11 Common Mistakes Writers Make with Prepositions

This article has 2 comments

  1. Liz Kales

    Jennifer, The problem is that in the USA, the punctuation is always within the quotes. It does make it look awkward sometimes.

  2. Eric

    Doesn’t it make more sense to quote what was said not added to it as an author? So in 1.1) the first comma and that in 1.2) may not have been said (like in 2.1) and they are there entirely because of the author’s construction but are attributed to the character while the question mark was said and quoted.

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