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Does the Punctuation Go Inside or Outside the Quotation Marks? 7 Rules for Punctuation in Dialogue

Rules for Punctuation in Dialogue

All you have to remember is one rule: The punctuation goes INSIDE the quotation marks (about 99% of the time…lol). As with almost every rule in the English language, there are exceptions. But, if you follow this rule, you are bound to be right much more than you are wrong. 

This rule is most frequently used when writing dialogue within your manuscript. Let’s look at the correct way to use punctuation within quotation marks. 

7 Rules for Punctuation in Dialogue

Add a comma inside the quotation marks when a dialogue tag follows.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • “Troy walked to the store,” he replied.
  • “Your daughter is a very great reader,” Mrs. Hart said.

Make sure that you do not capitalize the pronouns (with the exception of I) after the ending quotation mark. However, proper nouns should be capitalized. 

  • “Your daughter is a very great reader,” Mrs. Hart said.

If you do not add a dialogue tag after your sentence, then you should end the sentence with a period inside of the quotation marks. 

  • “You should hire an editor before you publish your book.”

All the other punctuation marks belong inside quotation marks too.

Make sure you keep your question marks, exclamation points, em-dashes, and ellipses inside the quotation marks.

  • “How long will it take you to edit the manuscript?” John asked.
  • “Look at the butterflies!” Paris exclaimed.
  • “Don told us that he would be attending the event, but I guess–” Tamira started to say before being interrupted by her ringing cell phone.
  • “Maybe we can make a cake…” she said to herself.

Every sentence begins with a capital letter.

If the character says more than one sentence, each new sentence should begin with a capital letter. 

  • “I’m going to take Pickles for a walk. He’s always in a sour mood when I keep him in the house,” Juan said.

Each speaker is the star of their own line.  

When you write a conversation between characters, you never want to have the characters speaking continuously on the same line. It can be very confusing for your readers. Make sure you use paragraph breaks. Dialogue is very confusing without using a paragraph break between speakers.

Incorrect: 

  • “Are you going out of town tomorrow?” Ashley asked. “No, I will be leaving next week,”  I responded. 

Correct: 

  • “Are you going out of town tomorrow?” Ashley asked. 

“No, I will be leaving next week,”  I responded. 

Add a comma before the quotation marks when a dialogue tag proceeds the sentence.

When you start with a dialogue tag, a comma so be placed right before the opening quotation mark.

  • Tamira said, “You can bring her by after you pick her up from school.”
  • Jennifer asked, “What is required to get into nursing school?”

When a character speaks for multiple paragraphs, only the last paragraph has a closing quotation mark.

When a character speaks for longer than three or four sentences, you will need to create paragraphs. In this case, the first paragraph does not close with a quotation mark. Each paragraph that follows will only have an opening quotation mark. The last paragraph will have the quotation mark.

  • “In the fall of 2016, I had the unfortunate experience of being laid off from my job as a new mother and the sole provider of my household. I tried everything I could to find another job, but things were difficult because I was overqualified. 

“In the midst of despair, I remembered that I minored in journalism in college and decided to put it to use. From there, I A.M. Editing Ink, LLC was born, and I want to share my editing gift with the world. 

“What started as an answer to my problem became the answer to the issues many others were facing, and I began an empowering journey through entrepreneurship. I desire to ensure that my clients have a quality experience that leaves them with the confidence that they need to excel.”

Use single quotation marks when you place quotes within your dialogue.

It is better to show you an example than to try to explain it: 

  • “My grandma always said, ‘Sometimes it’s just nice to be nice,’ and I think she was right.”

As you can see, while there are many rules, it’s not hard at all. These seven punctuation rules for dialogue are only the tip of the iceberg, but once you get into the habit of following these rules, you’ll find that it’s a lot easier to maneuver through your dialogue. If you need further assistance, you can contact I A.M. Editing at www.iamediting.com with all of your questions.