Monday 31 January 2011

Punctuating dialogue

Many beginner writers struggle to get dialogue punctuation right, so I thought I would copy some paragraphs from The Writer’s ABC Checklist to give a few pointers on punctuation for dialogue.

When the dialogue tag forms part of a sentence, you should use a comma after the speech, close the quote marks, and use a lower case letter for the tag.

“You drove me to it,” he said.

Notice that in the examples below a lower case letter is used even when it follows a question mark or exclamation mark. This is because the tag is part of the sentence, not separate to it.

“How could you?” she asked.
“You’re an idiot!” he yelled.

However, when no tag follows the dialogue you should use a full stop, question mark or exclamation mark to finish the speech and then close the quote marks.

“How could you?”
“Easily, you drove me to it.”
“You’re an idiot!”

When dialogue continues after the tag, but is still part of the same sentence, a comma is used, with a lower case letter starting the next section of dialogue.

“There are times,” she said, “when I could murder you.”

When dialogue continues after the tag, but is NOT part of the same sentence, a full stop is used, with a capital letter starting the next section of dialogue.

“I don’t understand you,” he said. “What on earth did you think you were doing?”


  1. Hi Lorraine,
    Thanks for this link..
    Is really helpful.

  2. Thanks for this information Lorraine

  3. Thank you Lorraine. The examples help. Bashir Sakhawarz

  4. Thanks Lorraine. This is helpful. And thanks for your email.
    Delighted to receive it.

  5. Thank you so much Lorraine. The link has beamed a torch. Very grateful for it.

  6. Yup that's great. But when I'm concentrating and the words are bursting to get out of my head all this correct stuff seems to be forgotten

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Thanks for the tips! I was also wondering how to use tags properly. I always have difficulties with, so, can anyone check my sentence for errors? It'll be great.By the way, could provide any info concerning tags when writing quotes? The issue is still unclear for me, thanks!

  9. Thanks for the link Lorraine - the examples help. I need to be more meticulous about checking whether my dialogue follows these correctly punctuated examples.

  10. I'm glad you found the post useful.

  11. Hi Lorraine. Thanks so much, this is really helpful. It's good to keep and refer back to.