Dialogue Punctuation

I have been here for two years and read a lot of good stories here and there. During my stay here I noticed that a lot of writers are using dialogue punctuations incorrectly, and while for some it might not be noticeable at all, it breaks the immersion for me. Worry not! I'm here to help. I'll be your resident English teacher for today and no, I'm not just roleplaying as a teacher, I am a fully licensed High School English teacher. Let's begin our lesson!

 

How to punctuate dialogue

 

If you write in U.S. English

1. "It's a long journey! Take this with you."

 

This is just a quoted sentence.  It doesn't say who spoke it; it is just quoted.

Note that there are double quotation marks surrounding the quotation.

Note that the period goes IN the quotation marks.

 

2. "It's a long journey! Take this with you," said Irene.

 

This is a quotation with attribution at the end.  When you attribute, change the period to a comma.

The comma still stays in the quotation marks.

 

3. Irene said, "It's a long journey! Take this."

 

This is a quotation with attribution at the start.  Link the attribution to the quotation with a comma.

 

4. "It's a long journey! Take this," Irene said. "It's a heat pack."

 

This is a quotation with attribution in the middle.  Treat it just like #2 above, changing the comma to a period.  Put a period after the attribution. After the attribution, open up new quotation marks for the rest of the quotation.

Don't do this: "It's a long journey! Take this." Irene said. "It's a heat pack."

Don't do this: "It's a long journey! Take this," Irene said, "It's a heat pack."

 

Summing Up:

1.  Use double quotation marks.

2.  Periods and commas go IN quotation marks.  There is an exception to this rule, but it will rarely come up for you when writing short stories, so don't worry about it.

 

If you write U.K. English

 

1. 'It's a long journey! Take this.'

This is just a quoted sentence.  It doesn't say who spoke it; it is just quoted.

Note that there are SINGLE quotation marks surrounding the quotation.

Note that I put the period IN the quotation marks.  That is because UK English insists that if the originally said thing had a period at the end, you have to put it in the quotation marks.

If the original quotation were something like "Irene is afraid of animals, you can't convince her to go to the farm! This plan of yours is already doomed from the start." and I wanted to quote an excerpt of that in UK English, I might write

                'Irene is afraid of animals, you can't convince her to go to the farm'.  

I'm using single quotation marks, and since the original didn't have a period at the end, I have to put the period outside the quotation mark.

 

2. 'It's a long journey! Take this', said Irene.

This is a quotation with attribution at the end.  When you attribute, change the period to a comma.

The comma is outside the closing quotation mark.

 

3. Irene said, 'Its a long journey! Take this.'

 

This is a quotation with attribution at the start.  Link the attribution to the quotation with a comma.

Note single quotation marks.

The original sentence has a period at the end, so I can put it inside the quotation mark at the end.

 

4. 'It's a long journey! Take this', Irene said. 'Its a heat pack.'

 

This is a quotation with attribution in the middle.  Treat it just like #2 above, changing the comma to a period.  Put a period after the attribution. After the attribution, open up new quotation marks for the rest of the quotation.

Don't do this: 'It's a long journey! Take this.' Irene said. 'It's a heat pack.'

Don't do this: 'It's a long journey! Take this,' Irene said. 'It's a heat pack.'

 

Summing Up:

1.  Use single quotation marks.

2.  Periods and commas go in quotation marks IF you are really quoting the original punctuation.  If you aren't, put them outside the quotation marks. 

 

Quesition and Exclamation points

 

For U.S English

 

                      Irene said, "I love you!"

                      Irene said, "I love you"!

 

Which is right?  They are both right.  But they mean different things.

The first one attributes the excitement to Irene (the ! is in the quotation marks).

The second one attributes the excitement to the narrative voice (the ! is out of the quotation marks).

 

“What the heck is that thing running towards me?” asked the nervous Irene while eyeing the dog running towards her general direction.  

The question is part of the quotation, so the question mark is inside the quotation marks.

 

Do you agree that "action is the foundational key to all success"?

The question is not part of the quotation, so the question mark goes outside the quotation marks.

 

What about Single Quotation Marks?

 

Single quotation marks in U.S. English are used solely for quotation within quotations.

 

John said, "I read a story titled 'My Sone Secret.'"

 

Here, "My Sone Secret" is a quotation within quotation, so it gets single quotation marks around it. You can also see that the quotation-within-a-quotation ends the quotation. So you end up with a single and a double quotation mark next to each other.  This is perfectly fine.

 

What about Single Quotation Marks in UK English:

 

Same as U.S. English, except the other way around.  Start with single quotation marks, and use double quotation marks for quoting within quotations.

 

That's all for today. I plan on doing more stuff like this but let's see, I tend to procrastinate a lot. This would have been out ages ago if I didn't procrastinate. 

 

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