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How to Punctuate Dialogue

Updated on September 21, 2010

There are 3 simple rules to punctuating dialogue, and a few more complicated rules only strict grammarians really understand, but you’ll be sure to run in to them when it’s least convenient. I’ll assist you with the simple ones, as well as a few of those obscure ones.

The 3 Simple Rules to Punctuating Dialogue

1. Punctuate from the Inside. Almost always place the period, question mark, or exclamation point on the INSIDE of the quotation marks. Example:

Tom said, “I will not tolerate this!”

2. Commas before quotes. When introducing a quote with the “he said/she said” manner, the comma comes after the “said” or whatever word you’ve chosen to use (be it asked, cried, shouted, etc). The point is that the comma goes AFTER the introduction to the dialogue and BEFORE the quotation mark. Example:

Jennifer whined tearfully, “But I never meant to hurt you.”

3. New person, new paragraph. When a new person speaks, you must begin a new paragraph. If someone speaks, and then you close the quotations and have more to say in your own words, you do not have to start a new paragraph as long as that same person speaks again (as is seen below), BUT you must start a new paragraph when a new speaker begins talking. Example:

Tom said, “I will not tolerate this!” He looked at Jennifer and wondered if she would begin crying. He then yelled, “You hurt ME! Why are YOU crying?”

Jennifer whined tearfully, “But I never meant to hurt you.”

Now that you know the basics that will get you through most of your dialogue needs, you might want to consider some troublesome, grey areas that people often run into.

Don’t use a comma before the dialogue if you’re not explicitly introducing someone speaking. Examples:

  • DO use a comma before the quotes here:

Jake said, “This party is really swell.”

  • Do NOT use a comma before the quotes here:

Jake referred to the party as “swell.” (in this case, you are merely finishing the sentence but trying to denote that “swell” is the actual word Jake used, so no comma is necessary)

The only time punctuation goes outside the dialogue is when the sentence surrounding the dialogue requires different punctuation than that of the dialogue. Example:

Did he just say, “Don’t go in there yet”? (Here, the question “Did he just say” requires a question mark, but “Don’t go in there yet” does not, so the question mark goes on the outside of the quotes)

Use apostrophes for quotes within quotes. Example:

Donna revealed, “I overheard Beth say, ‘I can’t stand Donna,’ and that remark really hurt my feelings.” (Try to avoid quotes within quotes within quotes, but if you can’t, use quotation marks again)

Don’t capitalize the first letter of a quote that completes a previously started quote in the same sentence. Example:

“It really hurts,” John admitted, “but I’ll survive.”

I hope this little tutorial was hopeful, and if someone tells you otherwise about what I've shared here, you can quote me on it!


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    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      Very good, practical hub with information we all need to remember.

    • desaiamarjeet profile image

      desaiamarjeet 7 years ago from India

      Hi Amanda,

      Good hub for also a person like me who is trying to get into Technical Writing. I have a Technical Writer who says, "Writing is a art same like any other art and the artist sharpens his skills by continous practice." Did I get this writing correct? Do people tend to lose their writing skills due to chatting or using abbreviations?

    • elayne001 profile image

      Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Very useful, and you make it easy to follow. This has been one of my difficulties in writing quotes. Thanks for simplifying it. Also, congrats on the nomination, and good luck.

    • bayoulady profile image

      bayoulady 7 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

      congrats!I love your tutorial!

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Ripplemaker said, "This is a very helpful hub!" Did I get that right? LOL I enjoyed this. It was done simply and clearly that it is easy to follow and learn. Thank you!

      Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination. To vote for this hub, this way please:

    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 7 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      The leniency of writers will be noticed through the use of punctuations, the quote and unquote marks and other symbols that will emphasize. I used to err, too, but I'm trying the best I can to avoid blunders. Thanks and congratulations, Amanda!

    • Money Glitch profile image

      Money Glitch 7 years ago from Texas

      Oh the wonderful do's and don'ts of punctuation! Thanks for sharing and congrats on being nominated to the HubNugget Wannabe's for this week. Good luck! :)

    • leni sands profile image

      Leni Sands 7 years ago from UK

      Great hub!

    • amanda_hinski profile image

      amanda_hinski 7 years ago from New Jersey

      Thanks for the support everyone :)

      Denny Lyon, I KNOW! I think there are a lot of reasons for otherwise intelligent people to have poor grammar/punctuation skills. A lack of education on the topic is very apparent; most teachers are not competent on the nitty gritty of grammar. I think it's also due to changes in written discourse (texting, emails, IMs, facebook, etc). I think also many people are just inattentive to detail. Grammar is also something for which some people have a knack and others do not. I guess that's what makes the world go round! :)

    • Denny Lyon profile image

      Denny Lyon 7 years ago from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA

      Well done and explained in a manner for those in need of a quick tutorial.

      It's amazing how many sites I run across with well written intelligent text from people with higher degrees and they still don't edit for punctuation. Sometimes, that makes me wonder if the site was a "copy and paste" since they failed to edit properly - and may not be the original writer. Good hub!

    • Bohemian rhapsody profile image

      Bohemian rhapsody 7 years ago from New york

      Thanks so much for these simple yet informative suggestions. As adults we sometimes forget and need to be reminded. My late grandmother would have approved as well, lol.

    • Jeffrey Tymczak profile image

      Jeffrey Tymczak 7 years ago from Amelia Island

      Great collection of information and tips. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to your next hub, I will definitely be rating this USEFUL hub UP!!! ;)


    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Good writing tips! Proper punctuation and grammar are two things that really improve writing.

    • SIJO1 profile image

      SIJO1 7 years ago

      Hi Amanda, welcome to Hupages.Thanks for the lesson you expained it very clearly so thanks for that.

      Enjoy Hubbing.

    • ladyjane1 profile image

      ladyjane1 7 years ago from Texas

      Hello Amanda I just wanted to welcome you to Hupages officially and to let you know that you can contact me if you need anything or have a question that needs answering. You can always go to the forums and check out all the Q&A's there as well. I hope you enjoy your experience here at hubpages and again welcome to the community. Cheers to you.