Updates! Updates! Updates!


As many of you can see, I've been a pretty terrible blogger lately! What can I say...Life.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How to Punctuate Dialogue

This is the kind of thing I see a lot of youner Grammarians struggle with. Dialogue can be a tricky thing at times because its rules for punctuating differ just a bit from punctuating normal prose and may seem strange at times. However, I'm going to attempt to make it feel natural by explaining why it is the way that it is.

Here's an example to get us started...

Incorrect: “Hello.” She greeted.
Correct: “Hello,” she greeted.

Now, the first is incorrect because "she greeted" is a continuation of "Hello," and by putting a period at the end of "Hello" one cuts "she greeted" off from "Hello" when they want to be connected. The second is correct because the comma replaces the period and allows "Hello" and "she greeted" to work together. The "s" in "she" is also lowercased because it is technically located in the middle of the sentence. (This only applies where a period would be used. To find out what to do when the quoted phrase requires a question mark or exclaimation point please read on. Also, remember that punctuation always goes inside the quotes and not outside.)

Incorrect: “How are you?” He asked.
Correct: “How are you?” he asked.

In the case of a question within quotes, a comma cannot end the quotes because it does not signal reader to raise their voice at the end like one would do when asking a question. Therefore, the questions in quotes must end in a question mark. However, the "he asked" portion of the sentence is still working with "How are you?" so the "h" in "he" needs to be lowercase. (This is one of those strange rules that may feel unnatural when writing, but it is grammatically correct. In addition, the same rules would apply to the use of an exclaimation point.)

Incorrect: “I wondered about that,” he turned away from her.
Correct: “I wondered about that.” He turned away from her.

This is an example of an instance where the quoted sentence and the sentence outside the quotes are not working together. They are two complete and seperate sentences. Therefore, the statement in quotes ends with a period (or a question mark or exclaimation) and the statement outside the quotes is capitalized.

I hope this made sense and is something many people can learnt oapply in their work. If anything is confusing, please feel free to ask questions.


  1. You're killing me here! lol

    Seriously though, this is great stuff, I think that generally people don't even think about punctuation when it comes to writing. Of course it hasn't helped that the rules seem to change as time goes by.

    As for me, my fingers seem to go faster than my brain at times so I generally have to go back and edit stuff like this which is MUCH more difficult than doing it right the first time.

    Thanks for more goodies to keep in mind, even though I'm groaning inside right now :p

  2. I remember your purple ink spattering my drafts with corrections to dialogue tags. Thanks to that, I am now a professional tag writer.

  3. djpr...Yes, it is easier to do it in the first place, but I understand what you are saying. When your fingers are flying it's hard to stop and think about grammar, especially when most grammar comes so naturally (like tense, capitalization, building a subject and object, building a noun and verb). There is so much we don't have to think about. Therefore, we need to train our minds to do the same thing with the grammar that doesn't come naturally at first.

    Matt...Awesome! I just had an arguement with some guy on WEbook about this. He said that correcting "superficial" (his word, not mine) errors like punctuation and typos was useless, but I find it to be just the opposite. How can you possibly know what errors you are making unconsciously if no one points them out?

  4. This guy wants to be published and he's calling grammatical mistakes "superficial"? Pfft, good luck to him.

  5. He says he understands grammar and any mistakes he made were merely overlooked so we shouldn't waste our time telling him what's wrong. And telling others just makes them lazy. He said they have to learn to edit on their own. and then I said "Well what the hell are editors for enyway?" (Minus the hell. I don't swear to people online.)

  6. Screw that jackass. He'll learn the hard way.

  7. "Thanks, I needed to remember the third example." She turned away from her.


  8. "Is this how I punctuate dialogue?" he asked, handing her a paper.

    "Very good!" she exclaimed without looking at it.

    "I- I don't understand..." he stammered, "What did I do?"

    "Never mind." She shrugged and took the paper, reminded again of the many dangers of combining realities by practicing punctuating dialogues for people in real life conversations.

    "Editors really freak me out sometimes." he thought to himself, nevertheless he saw her carefully developed skill as a sort of forbidding sorcery - a black art even! His mouth fell slightly agape as she watched the young woman pouring over the sheet, her face hidden behind her hand to hide the horror she felt.

    To her burning eyes the characters might as well have glowed, for it seemed to her that the fires of a private Hell of Incompetence shone from behind the careless composition there.

    "No." She said, aware of the fact that she was using a fragmented sentence and feeling with conviction that the situation warranted it.

    "This is not how you punctuate dialogue," she reiterated and gathering her things up, she paused for a moment to write on the page.

    "Go to this webpage," she commanded, pointing at the paper with an authoritarian flourish. "Don't come back until you've mastered the tips there!"

    After she had gone, leaving fluttering papers and shedding indignant exclamation marks in her wake, he looked down at the page, downtrodden and sullen.

    "Whosyoureditor.blogspot.com?" he wondered silently, no doubt improperly punctuating the perturbed thought in his head.

    ***Which brings me to my question: How should one write out urls or technical jargon in conversations or thought? and is the example above correct? For some reason it just seems kind of robotic for a real living character to think out a url exactly as it's entered in a link, or to think out a math problem using symbols, etc.

  9. Hey Patrick. This is looking good, but there are three things I would like to point out.

    (1)"No[,]" [s]he said, aware of the fact that she was using a fragmented sentence and feeling with conviction that the situation warranted it.
    ***This is the same as what was discussed in my first example in the article. "No" and "she said" want to work together so you use a comma and make the "s" in "she" lowercased.

    On that same note, here is another period that should be changed to a comma...

    "Editors really freak me out sometimes[,]" he thought

    (2) When a person is thinking you can use quotes. No one will tell you it is wrong, especially if the person is thinking outloud. However, in some prose, to differentiate thoughts from actually dialogue, a writer will italicize thoughts instead of putting them in quotes. So, this...

    "Editors really freak me out sometimes[,]" he thought

    would look like this...

    (start italics) Editors really freak me out sometimes[,](end italics) he thought

    Does that make sense? It's not something you have to do, but it looks pretty and then the writer doesn't have to wonder if your character is saying these things outloud or not.

    (3) As far as the URL is concerned, in dialogue, I usually, and have read in other author's work, that the URL is written out just as we would speak it. So, www.whosyoureditor.blogspot.com would look like this...

    "Www dont who's your editor dot blogspot dot com."

    You could also place a pretty hyphen in between each word to make it clear that the whole thing goes together.

    The same thing would go for a math problem. If someone were saying 3x4=12 then it would read...

    "Three times four equals twelve."

    There may be another way of doing this, but I'm pretty sure that none look elegant. This kind of sentence will always look a bit strange because these are things that are better written then spoken, I guess.

    Tha was fun, no? I love answering your questions. Feel free (anyone) to post more. This is why I'm writing this blog in the first place. I love doing this kind of thing so you guys don't have to. :)

  10. Sorry for all the typos. It's the middle of the night, I'm typing in the pitch black, I should still be in bed, but I wanted to get to this comment before anyone else. :)

  11. Oh, also, for something like this...

    "I- I don't understand..." he stammered, "What did I do?"

    You could technically do something like this...

    "I- I don't understand..[,]" he stammered, "What did I do?"

    Some books will tell you that's correct, others will say you don't have to do it. Personally, I don't do it, but some people like it so I thought I would mention it.

  12. Thank you for the tips and further education. Lord knows I need it!

  13. No problem. I love this stuff so it's fun to do.


Thank you for adding to the conversations! This blog is a part of the "Follow Me If You Dare Revolution!" Join the Revolution here...http://whosyoureditor.blogspot.com/p/do-you-dare_18.html...to promote the best kind of following!