Grammar Geek – how to punctuate dialogue

Most every story has dialogue, so its important to punctuate it correctly. Readers expect it, and they use the dialogue punctuation to help them figure out who’s speaking.

If you forget the following rules, the easiest way to remember how to do this is to grab your favorite novel, open to a page that has dialogue, and pay attention to how the author punctuated it.

If you don’t have a novel handy, here are some general guidelines for punctuating dialogue correctly:

  1. Start a new paragraph with an indent every time the speaker changes. Readers expect this. It is a clue to the reader that the speaker has changed even if you don’t have a “said” tag.
  2. Put the words that the character says in quotation marks. Be sure the quotation marks go at the beginning AND the end of their spoken words.
  3. If the character has a LONG speech that is going on for more than one paragraph, you don’t need to put quotation marks at the end of the paragraph, just start the next paragraph with quotation marks. Put the end quotation marks in when the character is done speaking.
  4. All end punctuation must go inside the quotation marks.
  5. Put a comma between the words the character says and the “said” tag.  For example, you’d write: “I told you to use a comma,” Sarah said. OR Sarah said, “I told you to use a comma.”
  6. Question marks and exclamation marks have some special rules. If they go with what the speaker is saying, they go inside the quotation marks. For example: Sarah asked, “What are we having for dinner?” If the entire line is a question, put question mark or exclamation point outside the quotation marks. For example: I can’t believe you asked “what’s for dinner”!
  7. The speaker’s words generally start with a capital letter, unless the quote is divided by the “said” tag. For example, “We are having spaghetti for dinner,” said Sarah, “and then we’re having ice cream for dessert.” The “We” is capitalized but the “and” in the second part is not.

Now that you’ve got the rules, grab one of your masterpieces and review your dialogue. Did you do it correctly? If not, fix it!


  1. vi123456 on October 15, 2015 at 8:23 am

    This was very useful! Thanks!

  2. […] you need help with how to actually write dialogue, this post has all the nuts and bolts for punctuating and formatting it […]

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