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Divas On Dialogue: Dialogue Punctuation


The are three ways to punctuate dialogue in your novel: the right way, the wrong way, and a mixture of the them both. Kind of confusing, huh? To some it can be. Do you use a comma or period with this tag, or do you capitalize the first word after the quotation?

Talking about dialogue punctuation is one thing, but it’s a lot easier to show you the ins and outs of punctuating your dialogue.

You all have the basic premise of writing dialogue down pat.

“Sally, please feed the cat.”

This is a nice, simple sentence. When you want to add more to the thought, the punctuation changes.

“Sally, please feed the cat,” said Johanna.

When the sentence in dialogue is followed by an additional thought like, said Johanna, the period turns into a comma because the sentence is now continuing past the quotation mark. Said is considered a dialogue tag which requires a comma after cat.

Speaking of dialogue tags, there are many to choose from. Tags that are considered speech originating from the mouth will almost always require a comma inside the quoted text. Examples of these sorts of tags are said, told, whispered, mumbled, muttered, cried, asked, and etc. Outside of this tags, there are creative dialogue tags which can be debatable whether they are considered speech originating from the mouth. Each writer and editor holds a different standard on punctuating these tags. It’s hard to set a standard when punctuating tags.

With punctuation such as question marks and exclamation points, the presence of the comma is replaced by those points. Depending on the tag or the thought after the quoted dialogue, the capitalization changes.

“Sally, where’s my cat!” She raised her voice in alarm. 

The pronoun “she” is capitalized because “raised” is not considered a dialogue making the quoted text a complete sentence.

“Sally, where is my cat!” she yelled. 

This sentence above “she” is lowercased because “yelled” is considered speech originating from the mouth and the sentence is complete after the quoted text.

If the tag is before the quoted text, the comma is used before the first quotation.

Johanna yelled, “Find my cat!”

This is also the case for most tags and still debatable for creative tags. Words like continued, in my opinion don’t receive a comma, but many would argue with this assertion.

But what about the tag that splices the quoted text? The same rules apply for the tags as above. Although when the sentence is interrupted by the tag and then continued after the tag, commas are used instead of other punctuation.

“Johanna, I don’t know where your stupid cat is,” Sally said. “Leave me alone!”


“Don’t you dare,” Johanna hissed, “talk to me like that.”

Don’t forget when you are quoting another person inside quoted text, the use of single quotes is required over double.

“‘Don’t you dare’?” 

In the above text, wherein Sally is directly quoting Johanna, single quotes are used around the text. Make note that any punctuation after the text will always come before the double quote at the end of the text as seen above. This is true for other punctuation points as well.

Punctuating other types of sentences that use punctuation like ellipses and em dashes look like the examples below. According to the Chicago Manual of Style, if the sentence is left incomplete at the end as if the speech drops off, no punctuation is needed after the ellipses.

“You don’t understand…”

Also acceptable is a period after the suspension point.

“You don’t understand….”

If punctuation after the suspension point requires a question mark or exclamation point, it is treated in a similar fashion.

“You don’t understand…?”

But if the dialogue is followed by a tag, the appropriate punctuation is needed.

“But…I…,” she muttered.

Em dashes don’t require punctuation before the quotation.

“I can talk anyway I—”

“No, you can’t.”

“—want to.”

Punctuating dialogue isn’t rocket science but it can get tricky. Following a guide like The Chicago Manual of Style can help you stay on track when you second guess yourself. You can always ask one of the Divas. We would love to help.

Let us know what you think about the article and Johanna. Boy, was she mad.



  1. Anne Hammond Says: February 21, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    Thank you! I always thought I knew how write dialogue but kept getting tangled up. I will ‘bookmark’ this page!

  2. I have bookmarked this page too! The examples are spot on. I’ve always been uneasy when splicing some dialogue as to what punctuation should be going on. Now I can stop fluffing around and get on with writing.

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