Dina Friedman's Monthly Writing Advice

Vol. 1 # 6, November 2001 - How to Punctuate Quotations

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Dear Dina,

What is the correct punctuation for dialogue?

Signed,
Confused

Dear Confused,

Dialogue is always tricky. Here are a few quick guidelines.

Remember that the quote marks are usually part of a bigger sentence, and punctuate accordingly.

Example: "Where are the enchiladas?" he asked.

There's a question mark here because the quote is a question. But there's also a period after asked, because the quote is part of the sentence, not the entire sentence. However, if you changed it to

He asked, "Where are the enchiladas?"

then the question mark would be the end punctuation of the sentence. The attribution, 'he asked' is followed by a comma.

(this tip continues)

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A definitive statement would be punctuated as follows.

"The enchiladas are on the table," he said.

Or

He said, "The enchiladas are on the table."

For more clarification consult a stylebook. These are invaluable references for all writers. I recommend Diana Hacker's Manual of Style, but many others will do the trick. If you can use a style book appropriately, then you won't have to memorize any of this. You just have to notice what you don't know, and then you can look it up and fix it.

So thank you, "Confused" for writing. Keep those questions coming.

Best,
Dina

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Dina Friedman, M.S.W., has worked with individuals and groups on issues for thirteen years. A published fiction writer, poet, playwright, and journalist and winner of several awards and honors, she coordinates academic writing workshops for Mount Holyoke College. She has taught rhetoric, English Comp, and creative writing at the University of Massachusetts, Holyoke Community College, and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

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