Quotation marks have a variety of uses.
- “I’m not going tonight,” he announced.
- “But you’re the MC!” she protested.
- “Help!” he yelled.
- He yelled for help.
- (No quotation marks because these are not the exact words he yelled. He didn’t yell, “For help.”)
- “I won’t be home until tomorrow,” she explained. “My car broke down.”
- She explained that she wouldn’t be home until tomorrow. Her car broke down.
- (No quotation marks because these are not the exact words she spoke.)
Some tags are short, and others are more creative. Words that say who is speaking should introduce the conversation with a comma.
- He said, “Tell me you still want to marry me.”
- She replied, “Of course, I do, silly.”
- The best man answered, “We don’t have time for this.”
Not every line of dialogue needs a tag. Conversation back and forth between two speakers should have an initial tag. An extended conversation might have another tag later to clarify who is speaking.
- “What time is it?” the passenger asked the stewardess.
- “It’s three minutes to eight.”
- “Then we should soon be arriving in Chicago.”
- “Very soon.”
- “Do you know what the temperature is there?”
- “No, but I can find out,” she responded, heading for the cockpit.
If the tag is an action (a complete sentence on its own), finish it with a period.
Action tag examples:
- The groom dropped to his knees. “Tell me you still want to marry me.”
- She raised him and gave him a big hug. “Of course, I do, silly.”
- The best man grabbed them each by the hand. “We don’t have time for this.”
- I don’t want to go to the party. He took off his tie.
- She knew he wouldn’t even if she said something, but she could think it. But you’re the MC! You have to go!
Punctuation with quotation marks
Commas and periods
- “Don’t ever do that again,” she threatened. “You don’t want to know what will happen to you.”
- “I didn’t do that in the first place,” he replied. “That’s not something I would do.”
- I don’t remember him asking, “When did you do that?”
- If he did, I would have replied, “What’s it to you?”
Dialogue tag as question/exclamation
- When did she say, “I’m not coming”?
- Why did they respond, “It doesn’t matter”?
Both spoken words and dialogue tag as questions/exclamations
- Did she understand that I asked, “When are you going?”
- When will he ask, “Will you marry me?”
Quotations within quotations
- His face grew red. “I never said, ‘I will write the letter.’ ”
- Beth remembered. “Your exact words were ‘Well, if somebody has to do it, I will.’ ”
Spoken words more than one paragraph
Not all dialogue is limited to a few sentences. Sometimes the speaker delivers a “speech” of more than one paragraph.
Each new paragraph should begin with an opening quotation mark.
Example (each paragraph shortened)
- “I can’t tell you how much …
- “Then he hit me with a …
- “And I responded with …”
All paragraphs begin with an opening quotation mark. First and second do NOT end with a closing quotation mark; only the last one does.
- The chef turned to his new assistant. “Let me explain to you exactly how I want the dishes washed.
- “First, you will rinse them thoroughly in warm, not hot, water to remove all the remains of the food.
- “Then you will stack them neatly in the dishwasher. Glasses go on top, plates go below.
- “After you have run the dishwasher, you will hand dry them with a clean towel.
- “Do you understand?“
(First, second, third, fourth, and fifth paragraphs have opening quotation marks. Only the last [fifth] paragraph has closing quotation marks.
(Paragraphs have been kept brief to save the blog’s space and your time.)
Formal quotations (not conversation) are more common in non-fiction than in fiction. Short quotations (one or two sentences) may be included in the text.
They are usually introduced with a sentence ending in a colon.
Lou Gehrig, when retiring from baseball because of his illness, spoke of his blessings:
Fans, for the past two weeks, you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
Look at these grand men. …
Samantha “Sam” Taylor Johnson is a British filmmaker and photographer who spoke about directing the film Nowhere Boy:
|I thought, I’m in too deep and if I mess this up, I’m just never gonna make a film again, and I went into a panic. I got into the car and said, “I just have to call these producers and pull out.” I got into the car, and I put the key into the ignition, and Lennon’s voice came straight out of the radio, and it was Starting Over. It was one of those moments where I thought it was a sign: OK, I’m gonna do it. (Wikipedia, Sam Taylor-Johnson)|
Euphemisms or words used out of the normal way, words implying doubt
- The English teacher explained the grammar of the sentence. “Martin” is the subject; “tried” is the verb.
- (In this sentence, “Martin” is used to identify his place in the sentence; the same is true for “tried.” The words are not used in the normal way.)
- I never heard of “fake news” until 2016.
- (The intention is to belittle the news we do not want to believe, casting doubt on its truthfulness.)
- So it was an “accident” that he ran into his former employer’s car?
- (casting doubt on the explanation)
- The minister never said that someone had died. Instead, the deceased had “gone to a better place.”
- (Euphemisms are intended to soften the message, to be not so blunt.)
- Twenty years ago, people “died.” Today, they “pass on.”
- (“pass on” is a euphemism for “died.)
Complete works or sections
- Johnny Cash’s popular hit, “I Walk the Line,” is in his album With His Hot and Blue Guitar.
- (The song is surrounded by quotation marks. The album is italicized.)
- The Complete Collection of Poems by Edgar Allan Poe includes “The City in the Sea” and “Eulalie.”
- (The title of the book is in italics, and the name of the poem is in quotation marks.)
- “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” is a song from South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
- (As a piece of the larger work, the song is placed in quotation marks. The complete piece is italicized.)
- The chapter, “Churchills’ Historianship,” in Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking People discusses the ability of Churchill as a historian.
- (The chapter is surrounded by quotation marks. The complete book is italicized.)
- Star Trek often engaged in social issues, such as the role of women in “Star Trek: Discovery.” (
- The episode of the series takes quotation marks. The name of the series itself is italicized.)
Specialized words or technical terms
After its first use, quotation marks are no longer necessary.
- A “santur” is a variety of a zither, played by striking the strings with special hammers. My cousin plays a saunter.
- November 1, the day after Halloween, is celebrated in the Catholic Church and others as “All Saints’ Day.” My oldest brother was born on All Saints’ Day.
- The electrician added a “Zener diode” to reverse the current when the voltage exceeded what he felt was safe for the circuit. Unfortunately, the Zener diode was defective.
- The Spanish Riding School in Vienna trains their horses in the old “airs” or exercises of agility from the days of the knights. The “capriole” is one of those movements. A horse doing a capriole almost appears suspended in the air.
- El Día de los Muertos, “The Day of the Dead,” is a family celebration in Mexico.
- El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is a family celebration in Mexico.
- She only knew five words in Japanese: ichi, ni, san, shi, go, “one, two, three, four, five.”
- She only knew five words in Japanese: ichi, ni, san, shi, go (one, two, three, four, five).
- The only words he knew in German were danke sehr, “thank you.” When he learned bitte, “Please,” he felt he had all he needed.
- The only words he knew in German were danke sehr (thank you). When he learned bitte (please), he felt he had all he needed.
The nickname is placed between the first names and the last name and set off with quotation marks.
- Dwight G. “Ike” Eisenhower was elected President after World War II.
- One of the most famous outlaws of the Old West was Henry “Billy the Kid” McCarty.
- Paul William “Bear” Bryant was the well-known head coach of the winning football team at the University of Alabama.
- George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Jr., became of the first five members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
- Phoebe Ann “Annie Oakley” Mosey won her first shooting match at the age of 15.
Letters of the alphabet
- Benjamin took second place in the spelling bee because he left out the second “e” in “serviceable.”
- Benjamin took second place in the spelling bee because he left out the second e in serviceable.
- Jesse’s father was delighted to see an “A” on the report card.
- Jesse’s father was delighted to see an A on the report card.
- Are there any other words in the English language with so many “s”s than Mississippi?
- Are there any other words in the English language with so many s’s than Mississippi?
- I can never remember if “assistance” is spelled with an “a” or an “e.” My spell checker says it’s an “a.”
- I can never remember if “assistance” is spelled with an a or an e. My spell checker says it’s an a.
Feet and inches
- The box measured 2’3” by 1’2”.
- According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the height of the tallest man on earth is 8’2.8”. (I wonder how tall his parents are.)
- The math problems required determining the area of a circle with a radius of 3’6″.