Yesterday, in preparation for the State Writing Exam, some of my colleagues and I had a conversation about quotation marks in dialogue and how to properly punctuate them. As with any other type of punctuation, people tend to be confused and mystified. Dialogue seems to be one of the most feared forms of punctuation, but it needn’t be. Here’s the lowdown on punctuation for dialogue.
1. Place quotation marks around the words that actually come out of the person’s mouth.
I tell my students if the words go in a comic strip bubble, then quotation marks go around those words. I ask them if they ever see the words he said or she said in a comic strip bubble. Usually they reply in the negative. If they answer in the affirmative, I tell them to go read a comic book.
2. Place ending periods and commas inside the end quotation mark.
Mariah said, “I want an elephant for my birthday.”
3. Place proper punctuation at the end of the sentence.
“I want an elephant for my birthday,” Mariah repeated.
4. Each time a person speaks, begin a new paragraph.
Mariah stomped her foot and demanded, “I want an elephant for my birthday!”
“Certainly, honey,” her father replied. “Anything for my angel.”
5. Capitalize the first word of what the person says, even if it occurs in the middle of a larger sentence.
Mariah’s mother asked her husband, “Where are you planning on keeping this elephant?”
Please note that this is the practice for punctuation of dialogue in American English. Other countries may use a slight variation.
Common mistakes I see in student writing as well as adult writing include placing the commas or periods outside the quotation marks and forgetting to place punctuation at the complete end of the sentence. These are easy to correct when you know these five rules for punctuating dialogue.
Now I’ll leave Mariah’s family to work out the details of housing and care of their elephant. Perhaps they should give Mariah some lessons in manners instead.
How to Use Proper Punctuation When Writing Dialogue by Suzanne Pitner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at https://teacherwriter.net/2009/02/25/how-to-use-proper-punctuation-when-writing-dialogue/.