5 Rules for Puncuating Dialogue

Looking at what makes other writer blogs so successful and popular, I’ve noticed they have one thing in common – they all post articles on how to be a better writer. Well, I’ve decided to try it out with my article on dialogue.

Dialogue. Every book has it, and it would be hard (if not impossible) to write a good novel with out it. So it’s important it’s good and believable, because believable dialogue equals believable characters.  So, here’s five rules for punctuating dialogue. But, before I start,  some terminology.


  • Tag Line: The words used to identify who spoke the words. Eg “he said”, “she shouted”
  • Quotation: The piece of speech (dialogue).
  • Double Quote: “ ” Used for spoken dialogue.
  • Single Quote: ‘ ’

5 Rules for Punctuating Dialogue:

  1. Use a comma between the dialogue and the tag line.
    eg. “I hope you enjoy this article,”Little Scribbler said.
  2. Use double quotes for quotations, and only use single quotes when referring to a quotation inside a quotation.
    eg. “This is a good article”.
    eg. “Did you enjoy reading the novel ‘Poseidon’s Trident’ by Little Scribbler?”

  3. If the quotation is longer than one paragraph, do not use the ending quote until the end of the quotation, but use a beginning quotation at the beginning of  the next paragraph.
    eg. “I did not destroy your novel. It was not me, but that funny looking man over there.
    “He also destroyed my novel, and Mrs Storee’s as well”.     Okay, not the best dialogue, but you get the point.

  4. Comma’s and periods go inside the quotes, but other punctuation marks (?, !, -) go outside, unless they are directly relevant to the quotation.
    eg. “ I Love your book! Do you love my book?” – Exclamation and question marks are relevant to the quotation.
    eg. “Did he say ‘I love your book’?” – Question mark is not relevant to the single quoted quotation.
  5. When a tag line interrupts the quotation, it should be offset by commas. The first letter of the second half of the dialogue should not be a capital.
    eg. “I love your novel,” he said, “It was really good.”

Wow. That wasn’t to bad. I should write some more articles some time. It turned out quite big too. I was going to have some more on dialogue (tips), but I’ll save that for the next article. Don’t forget to leave comments. I live on comments.

Always Writing,

Little Scribbler


19 Responses to 5 Rules for Puncuating Dialogue

  1. K.M. Weiland says:

    Very nice! I’d add that tag lines don’t necessarily have to separated with commas on both sides. If the first part of the dialogue is a complete thought, the tag line can end with a period, and the next bit of dialogue can begin as a new sentence in its own right. E.g. “Great article,” she said. “Do you write non-fiction often?”

  2. *Nods* Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it.

  3. In your first example you’ve got a typo – the comma is on the wrong side of the quotes.

    Otherwise, great article!

  4. D’oh! Thanks for pointing that out. I’ll fix that straight away. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  5. Togotooner says:

    What always throws me is this…

    Here is an example of dialogue from the same person. Do I use new quotes for each sentence or just before the first sentence and and after the last sentence of his speech.

    “I sure did, didn’t I? And you know what? It sure felt great!”

    OK,..the dialogue isn’t great, but it’s coming from the mouth of a 9 year old. Kids love to begin sentences with ‘and”.

    or should it be this way.
    “I sure did, didn’t I?” “And you know what?” “It sure felt great!”

    this seems like way too many quotation marks.

    Then my work around:
    “I sure did, didn’t I?” he proudly replied. “And you know what?” “It sure felt great!”

    Now I’m lost. Help!!!

  6. Togotooner: The quotation marks (” “) goes on the outside of the dialogue. So it could be

    “I sure did, didn’t I? And you know what? It sure felt great!”

    If you want a tag line in between to parts of the dialogue, refer to rule 1 and 5. But you don’t have quotation marks for each sentence. So it would be

    “I sure did, didn’t I?” he proudly replied. “And you know what? It sure felt great!”

    Does that help?

  7. Togotooner says:

    Thank you! Yes,….now I feel better!

  8. Togotooner says:

    One last item.

    Despite the rules 1 and 5, (It says that a tagline should be preceded with a comma) it would be awkward to place a comma after a question mark.

    “I sure did, didn’t I?,” he proudly replied. “And you know what? It sure felt great!”

    The above example looks wrong. I think the comma is not needed after the question mark. This however, goes against the rules.

  9. You’re absolutely right – the example does look wrong, and I’d say it is. Take out the comma, then change the lower case “h” to a capital, so

    “I sure did, didn’t I?” He proudly replied. “And you know what? It sure felt great!”

    I think that’s how it should be. You might want to try some other sites to confirm I’m correct. Sorry about the mistake.

  10. Togotooner: The comma only applies if the dialogue and tag make one phrase. Where the dialogue is a query or a statement, i.e. has a ? or !, then there is no comma, as Scribblar says above.

    However, you don’t capitalise the following tag. The correct method (according to Merriam-Webster’s Concise Handbook for Writers) is as follows:

    “I sure did, didn’t I?” he replied. “And you know what? It felt good!”

    The reason behind it is that ‘he replied’ is not a sentence in its own right, it is a phrase, a part of another sentence. And you only ever capitalise the beginning of a sentence.

    The reason that the ? and ! don’t fit Rules 1 and 5 is that they are usually the end of a sentence, but because they are emotive, they are often used at the end of a dialogue phrase for tone, even though they are not, in that case, indicating the end of the sentence.

    I hope that clarifies things.

  11. Merrilee Faber: Thanks lol =) I learnt something too. I better check through my writing.

  12. Togotooner says:

    Sure does! I was not sold on capitalizing the “h” in the tagline,…and lo and behold I was right. Thanks for the assist.
    What a great blog!

  13. […] Following on from a previous post about dialogue (click here to read it), I’d like to look at some common mistakes made, when writing […]

  14. Togotooner says:

    How do I depict it when characters in my novel are reading a highway billboard or passages in a book to themselves and not outloud?

    Should what they are reading to themselves be placed in quotes?

    Does anyone know?

  15. Togotooner: Hmm… I don’t think there’s any right way to do it. You could use quotation marks, or you could italicize it.

  16. Togotooner says:

    ok,…sounds good enough to me! Thanks.

  17. hellin keller says:

    thank you so much little scribbler. i had to do a project in english and thanks for all the answers!!!

  18. hellin keller says:

    ha ha ha ha than ya


  19. Hellin Keller: Glad I could help.

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