Dialogue Punctuation

Dialogue punctuation when a dialogue tag is involved.

A dialogue tag is a phrase around dialogue that clarifies information about the dialogue, such as who is speaking and how the dialogue is being spoken. When a dialogue tag is being used, the dialogue tag and the actual dialogue are parts of the same sentence. This can make punctuating that sentence a bit tricky.

Examples of possible dialogue tags:

Instructed

Lectured

Lied

Mentioned

Mumbled

Murmured

Nagged

Noted

Notified

Objected

Observed

Ordered

Pleaded

Pointed out

Prayed

Predicted

Questioned

Reassured

Related

Repeated

Since the dialogue tag is part of the same sentence as the dialogue, if the dialogue tag follows the dialogue it should not be capitalized.  This is true regardless of what type of punctuation you have ending the dialogue portion of the sentence.

Correct: “My name is Joe,” he said.

Correct: “How are you?” he asked.

Correct: “This is crazy!” he exclaimed.

Incorrect: “My name is Joe.” He said.

Incorrect: “How are you?” He asked.

Incorrect: “This is crazy!” He exclaimed.

If the dialogue tag precedes the dialogue, the sentence should begin capitalized and the dialogue should begin capitalized.

Correct: He said, “My name is Joe.”

Incorrect: He said, “my name is Joe.”

If one sentence of dialogue is separated by a dialogue tag, the dialogue tag should be surrounded by commas.

Correct: “This has been a strange day,” I said.

Incorrect: “This has been a strange day.” I said.

If two pieces of dialogue are separated by a dialogue tag, the dialogue tag and one piece of dialogue become one sentence and the other piece of dialogue becomes a second sentence.

Correct: “That is very nice,” she said. “I appreciate your help.”

Incorrect: “That is very nice,” she said, “I appreciate your help.”

Dialogue punctuation when there is no dialogue tag.

When dialogue exists and it is not followed by a dialogue tag, the dialogue becomes a stand-alone sentence.

Correct: “I am so happy.” A huge smile spread across my face.

Correct: My eyes blinked quickly to keep back the tears. “Why are you doing this?”

Incorrect: “I am so happy,” a huge smile spread across my face.

Incorrect: My eyes blinked quickly to keep back the tears, “Why are you doing this to me?

Dialogue punctuation when dialogue is separated by reactions.

When a reaction to the dialogue is inserted in between the dialogue, two different types of punctuation could be used. An em dash or an ellipsis could be used to separate the reaction from the dialogue.

Correct: “Things between us”–eyes looking everywhere but at me–“are never going to be the same, are they?”

Correct: “Things between us…” eyes looking everywhere but at me “…are never going to be the same, are they?”

Incorrect: “Things between us,” eyes looking everywhere but at me,” are never going to be the same, are they?”

Thought punctuation.

When a character thinks a direct thought, there are a few options on how to correctly punctuate it. You can separate the thought from the thought tag, if you will, by a comma. You can do this and italicize the thought. Or, you can treat the thought as if you would treat dialogue.

Correct: He is so cute, she thought.

Correct: He is so cute, she thought.

Correct: “He is so cute,” she thought.

Incorrect: He is so cute she thought.

Incorrect: He is so cute she thought.

Dialogue writing resources.

Fiction Writing

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