How to Punctuate in Dialogue

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punctuationSome time ago, Shelley Chappell wrote us a good post on Punctuation and Grammar.

But here is a concise break-down for quick and easy reference.


  • All first lines of dialogue by a different speaker should begin on a new line.
  • Speech marks, either double or single (but be consistent) frame the passage of speech, in most cases, curling towards it. Other punctuation (full stop, comma, question mark etc) goes within these speech marks:

“I really like ice cream.”

  • Use a comma if a speech tag follows:

“I really like ice cream,” said Felicity.

  • Use a full stop if a non-speech verb follows:

“I really like ice cream.” Felicity grinned.

  • Speech tags that follow directly after the closing speech mark should always be lower case, as they’re continuing the sentence, even when your writing program wants to capitalise them:

“I really like ice cream!” said Felicity.

  • If another sentence follows, but is not a continuation of the first, then a full stop should precede it:

“I really like ice cream!” said Felicity. “I’m gonna have a goodie gumdrops.”

  • But if it’s a continuation of the first sentence, it should be preceded by a comma:

“I think,” said Felicity, “I’m gonna have a goodie gumdrops.”

  • If your character is quoting another character in dialogue, then the quote will be in the other form of quotation marks (in this case, single quotes).

“Mother always said, ‘you are what you eat’. In which case, I must be delicious.”

Now for some more complex punctuation, but be aware that not everyone agrees on how this should be done. Different style manuals suggest different ways in which to write your ellipses.  One guide, the MLA, indicates [ . . . ]; the Chicago Style indicates [ … ] for omissions; the Australian Style Guide suggests [ … ] as well. Whichever you choose to use, the most important thing is be consistent.

  • Ellipses  should be used to indicate a pause in speech 

 “I think I’ll have the goodie gum drops … or maybe a chocolate mint.”

  • Or when the person’s train of conversation just trails off

“My favourite flavour? Now that’s a difficult question. I guess it must be …”

  • If a speaker is abruptly cut off or interrupted, dialogue should terminate in an em-dash:

“Or perhaps I’ll have a chocolate mi—”

“For goodness sake! Choose one already. Mine’s melted.”

The only punctuation after the closing em-dash should be the speech marks.

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