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Punctuation Rules for Conversation Quotation With Examples

Updated on June 30, 2017
VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne has been a University English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

The Goal in Punctuating

When you write a conversation, your most important goal is making sure your reader understands who is talking. The following rules are easy to follow and will make sure that your reader doesn't have to backtrack in the story (isn't that annoying?) to find out who said what!

6 Punctuation Rules

1. Indent each time a new person speaks.

2. Make it clear who is speaking.

3. Quotation marks only around speech.

4. Same speaker? No new paragraph.

5. Use Variety

6. Long quotations are special.

Use Emotional Words for "Said"

"Do you understand soldier!" hollered the captain. "Yes, sir!" retorted the recruit.
"Do you understand soldier!" hollered the captain. "Yes, sir!" retorted the recruit. | Source

1. Indent Each Time a New Person Speaks

This rule trips up many of my students. Every time a new person is speaking, you need to start a new paragraph and indent. Remember:

  • If the person only speaks a word or short phrase, you still need to indent.
  • Include any description which accompanies the action of that person in the paragraph with that quote.

Here is an example:

George said, "Jane, did you hear that noise last night?" George nudged her when she didn't respond.

"Hear what?" asked Jane, "You mean your snoring?"

George glared at her, "How could I have heard it if I was asleep snoring? You always think everything bad is my fault!"

Jane knew she was grumpy because she hadn't slept well and she wished George would agree to go to the sleep center to be tested for sleep apnea, but she didn't feel like getting into a fight right now. Softly, she touched his arm. "I'm sorry, George," she said. "What do you think you heard?"

Giving her a peck on the cheek, George ruefully grinned, "You're probably right. I must have woken myself up. Where's the number for that sleep doctor?"

Why indent? It helps the reader to follow the conversation and know when a new person is speaking. In a movie or real conversation, the visual and audio clues easily let us know when a new person is talking. In writing, you use punctuation and formatting instead.

In the above example, the name of the person was used in each paragraph; however, sometimes, when the dialogue is fast, you may omit the names of the speakers in short sentences. By indenting each line, the reader can still know who is speaking.

2. Make it Clear Who is Speaking

There isn't a firm rule about how many times you need to say the name of the speaker. Instead, the rule is that your reader shouldn't get confused and have to re-read. If are doing a short dialogue with just two people, say their names every 5-6 sentences or so.

Here is an example:

"Are you awake, George?" asked Jane.

"What?"

"I said, are you awake?

"I am now."

"What does that mean?"

"It means, you woke me up!" muttered George angrily, turning over in bed and uttering a very loud sigh.

"Oh."

"So, what do you want?" he sputtered.

"Nothing," said Jane, turning over and pulling the covers over her head. "Go back to sleep."

"You drive me crazy!"

Words Can Speak a Thousand Pictures

Be sure to use vivid adjectives and words for said to picture the conversation for the reader.
Be sure to use vivid adjectives and words for said to picture the conversation for the reader. | Source

3. Quotation Marks Only Around Speech

Quotation marks show two things:

  1. Someone is starting to speak.
  2. Someone is stopping speaking.

Therefore, when you use quotation marks, be sure to put them right before the words someone says and right afterwards. You never include the name of the person speaking inside the quotation marks (as I have 1-2 students do each year). Here is an example:

Incorrect: "George said I will pick up the laundry today on the way home from work."

"Great, then I will get us some Chinese take-out for dinner, Sally replied."

Correct: George said, " I will pick up the laundry today on the way home from work."

"Great, Then I will get us some Chinese take-out for dinner," Sally replied.

4. Same Speaker? No New Paragraph

Sometimes, a lot of description or other information might come in between the words someone is speaking. In that case, you need to remember:

  1. Quotation marks go around speech starting and stopping.
  2. If same person is speaking, you don't need to start a new paragraph.

Here is an example with the dialogue underlined:

Steve, my husband's French cousin, had an unusual haircut: rounded in front, sticking up on top, and short all over. "Obviously French," said my husband, "very sophisticated, very cool." I was somewhat less impressed, but I could tell my husband was thinking about asking me to cut his hair that way. Finally, he confessed, "I was going to ask you to cut my hair like Steve's, because I thought it might make me look at bit more debonair. I've changed my mind though, after his sister told me that their mother cuts his hair and everyone at school makes fun of him."

"Oh . . . uh, sorry," I said. I'd been trying to imagine what my husband would look like with a brown bowl on his head. "Guess even the French like to save money."

5. Use Variety for "Said"

There is nothing more boring than dialogue that always uses "he said" and "she said" or conversations that always put the speaker first. That kind of sentence writing only works for beginning reader books. Here is how you make your dialogue sound sophisticated and professional:

1. Use Variety in Where You Put Speaker. Making your dialogue pop means using variety. First of all, you can vary where you put the speaker. You can put this information at the beginning, middle or end of a sentence. Examples:

  • The beginning of the sentence:

Finally, he confessed, "I was going to ask you to cut my hair like Steve's because I thought it might make me look at a bit more debonair. I've changed my mind, however, after his sister told me that their mother cuts his hair and everyone at school makes fun of him."

  • The end of the sentence:

"Oh . . . uh, sorry," I said.

  • In the middle:

"Obviously French," said my husband, "very sophisticated, very cool."

2. Use Variety in words used for "said." Another important way that you can make great dialogue is to use many different words for said that give the emotion of the person.

3. Use Intensifying Words: You can also add adverbs (ly words) like "surprisingly," "quickly" and "seriously" to intensify that emotion. See the charts below for examples of words for said and adverbs.

Words for Said

said
happy words
question words
angry words
sad words
told
whispered
asked
demanded
cried
reminded
laughed
replied
yelled
lamented
interrupted
joked
queried
ordered
groaned
explained
giggled
argued
thundered
rembled
spoke
jested
answered
fumed
stammered
stated
chatted
responded
screamed
shuddered

Adjectives for Conversation: How Something is Spoken

cautiously said
boastfully said
emotionally said
how it is said
carefully
accusingly
gigglingly
softly
doubtfully
commandingly
laughingly
loudly
apologetically
smirkingly
sobbingly
gently
coaxingly
rantingly
cheerfully
dramatically
confidingly
sassily
pleadingly
encouragingly
speculatively
scoffingly
compassionately
wonderingly

6. Long Quotations are Special

Ok, I know everyone wants to be special but long quotations really are special and here are a few punctuation tips:

Use regular paragraph format for long quotes. Unlike quoting a literary or news source, when you are using conversation, you do not have to indent on the right-hand side for a long quote.You just use the regular paragraph format.

Use quotation marks only for the start and end of the quote. Normally, you will have many shorter quotations with a description in between. However, sometimes you may have a person speaking without interruption for a long time as they are telling a story. The way you punctuate this is different. If a person speaks for more than one paragraph you:

  • Put quotation marks before their first word.
  • Don't put a quotation mark at the end of that paragraph if they are still speaking without interruption in the next paragraph.
  • Instead, put quotation marks at the start of the next paragraph to indicate they are still speaking.
  • Put an ending quotation mark when they stop speaking.

My Grandfather pulled on a blade of grass and said, "Did I ever tell you about your Mom when she was little ? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (continue on for whole paragraph, there is no quotation mark at end).

"She was so funny when she was in the third grade. After school one day, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (finish paragraph but still no ending quotation marks).

"At her wedding, I thought I was going to cry because I loved her so much. But your Grandma cried so much that I laughed instead." Big tears rolled down his face now as he remembered that day.

Notice the ending quotation marks after "instead." The "Big tears..." sentence is a description, so there aren't any quotation marks around it.

Effective Conversation Writing

Improve your writing of dialogue by adding adjectives to explain how a person says something. Any of the words for said can be changed and made more interesting by adding one of the adjectives on the list. By changing the words around, you can make the same sentence have completely different meanings. Check out the amazing change adjectives and different words for said makes in these sentences:

Jason said, "Where are you going right now?"

"Where are you going right now?" demanded Jason.

Compassionately, Jason asked, "Where are you going right now?

Jason sobbingly cried, "Where are you going right now?"

Jason happily asked, "Where are you going right now?"

"Where," Jason abruptly interrupted, "Are you going right now?"

Use these word lists to give it a try in your own conversations and dialogues!

Tips for Writing Conversation

1. Put quotation marks around what is actually said.

2. Punctuation of conversation needs to help the reader "see" the conversation and know who is speaking when.

3. You don't need to say the name of the person speaking every time but say it often enough that the reader is reminded who it is.

4. If more than two people are speaking, you may need to tell the reader who is talking more often.

5. Let someone else read the dialogue and mark who is speaking if you aren't sure it is clear.

Remember that children often talk in short sentences.  Be sure the vocabulary you write is appropriate for the child's age.
Remember that children often talk in short sentences. Be sure the vocabulary you write is appropriate for the child's age. | Source

Look At Professional Writing

My final tip? If you ever encounter a punctuation problem you don't know how to solve, your best resource is pulling out a novel and looking through it for conversation which is like the kind you are doing. Choose a recent novel with a lot of dialogue for the best help. Copy editors make sure that the standards of punctuation are done correctly in printed work, so following the rules you see in a novel should make sure you are doing things correctly.

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    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 2 days ago from United States

      Hi Jack, you have a good question. The first one is correct in this particular instance. "This is a quote" becomes the subject of the sentence and there is never a comma between a subject and a verb (is). Since "this is a quote" becomes the subject, the problem with the last sentence is that by separating the quotation with a period, you leave the second sentence without a subject. Secondly, it is not correct to have words with quotations around them as a sentence unless it is part of a dialogue in a conversation which at some other point tells you who says those words

    • profile image

      Jack 2 days ago

      Hi, a problem I've had for a while and never found an answer to is how to punctuate the end of a quote used like this:

      "This is a quote" is a quote used in this sentence.

      or:

      "This is a quote," is a quote used in this sentence.

      or:

      "This is a quote." Is a quote used in this sentence.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 2 weeks ago from United States

      RTalloni--I have to look these rules up myself sometimes! I tell my students that they just need to know when they need to check on a rule.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 2 weeks ago from the short journey

      As always, well done and useful. I think Ive finally gotten a real grip on number 6. :)

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
      Author

      Virginia Kearney 2 weeks ago from United States

      So glad this was helpful Rita. I have lots of other ideas for writers. I hope you will check them out!

    • profile image

      Rita 2 weeks ago

      Thank you for this posting. It has helped me out a lot since it's been years since I last been able to relax with a good book or write anything lately. I really appreciate it!

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
      Author

      Virginia Kearney 2 weeks ago from United States

      You probably would keep this sentence in the last paragraph where someone spoke. However, if you want to emphasize the idea that there was unresolved tension and create a written "pause" in the story, you might make this as another paragraph.

    • profile image

      Unknown 2 weeks ago

      Then they both walked away.

      Do you make a new paragraph for this?

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
      Author

      Virginia Kearney 7 weeks ago from United States

      Thanks Ron! I will have to fix that. As you can tell, I have no military background and I appreciate you taking the time to look so carefully at the photo.

    • ronbergeron profile image

      Ron Bergeron 7 weeks ago from Massachusetts, US

      Good article, but I have to comment on the caption under the first picture - "Do you understand soldier!" hollered the captain.

      First, that's not a captain. That's a Marine Corps Staff Sergeant as shown by the rank insignia on his collar. Based on the black belt he's wearing, he appears to be a Senior Drill Instructor.

      Second, the person pictured would never use the word "soldier" when addressing a Marine Corps recruit. He would use "recruit", "Private", or a number of other terms that would certainly not be permitted on this site.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 6 months ago from United States

      You can, but I'm a bit confused by the "A." Do you mean:

      "Are you going to sleep yet?" asked Jane.

      or

      "Are you going to sleep yet?" Amy asked Jane.

      Both of those would be correct. Any punctuation that is included in the words spoken or quoted would remain the same. There is still a period at the end if there is some part of the sentence which is not in quotation marks. Here are some samples:

      James questioned, "Are we there yet?" which just irritated his already tired father.

      His sister retorted, "You just asked that two minutes ago!" as everyone in the car gave a big sigh.

    • profile image

      No name 6 months ago

      Can you write it like this,

      "Are you going to sleep yet?" A asked Jane.

      It has a question mark in the sentence Jane is speaking in but then there is a period at the end

      Can you write one like that?

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
      Author

      Virginia Kearney 7 months ago from United States

      Hi, Arielle--What a great question. I will have to add a section on this to my article. The answer is that you would use regular ("quotes") for the conversation between the first two people. Then, for the dialogue that is inside the story, you would use single quotes ('quote'). If you end your sentence with the person quoting the other person, you actually have three marks ('").

      Here is a sample:

      James told John, "I was talking with my English teacher yesterday and she asked, 'Are you taking my class next semester?'"

      "That's awkward," John replied, "I thought you didn't think she liked you. Isn't she the teacher who told you, 'Your sentences are about as successful as my attempt to serve broccoli to my teenagers?"

      "Yes," groaned James, "she then proceeded to tell me a story. She told me, 'When I was in school....'"

    • profile image

      Arielle 7 months ago

      Hello. These tips were helpful, thank you. I am still puzzled about the circumstance where there are two people having a conversation, and then one person tells a story to the other person involving a dialogue between two people. For the story within the dialogue between the 2 people, would I use regular quotes? Or single?

    • profile image

      Emily Wagers 11 months ago

      I am in your 1304 11:00 TR class and I am not sure how I made it through English in High School or my first English course at Baylor without knowing these tips. It was very helpful!!

    • profile image

      Denzel Mims 11 months ago

      This was a very helpful essay, I will use these tips when i am writing.

    • jlpark profile image

      Jacqui 2 years ago from New Zealand

      Well, this has just made my life so much easier - particularly when I've got a slightly long winded scene for a reasonably short of words character - now I can make it make sense to the reader.

      Have saved this to my favourites. Thanks for sharing this information.

    • profile image

      Shade1 3 years ago

      Thanks for the reply,this was exactly the same thing which i feel sometimes about Grr Martin's writing.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
      Author

      Virginia Kearney 3 years ago from United States

      Interesting question Shade. Without looking at the full passage, I can't give a definitive answer but my guess is that the writer started a new paragraph because there is a shift in subject. However, in that case they should have done a "speaker tag" to clarify who is talking. Rather than hard and fast rules in this sort of situation, I suggest that the guideline for the writer should always be to make it easy for the reader to follow the speakers. If a reader has to re-read, you've not written clearly. On the other hand, writers don't want to be too obtrusive with speaker tags so that their craft overshadows the story. Still, clarity is, in my mind, the most important goal. Thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      Shade1 3 years ago

      Great article,i stumbled upon it online when i was searching for dialogue punctuation articles.I have been reading books for a very long time and of late i am finding many errors in books.I recently read GRR Martin's a clash of kings.On page 242 the character Tyrion finishes his dialogue followed by a narrative sentence and then another paragraph has been started with him speaking.I was confused about who was speaking since either no closing quotation marks should have been there or a new paragraph should not have been started.It goes like this

      "I'll make...".Whether truly...

      ...........uses.

      "See that... Joffrey."

      Now is this an error or just that the end quotation mark in the 1st para was there because it was followed by a narrative sentence??

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
      Author

      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      Terrific! I'm always so pleased when my articles are helpful to someone in their classes.

    • profile image

      Guest 4 years ago

      Thank you for the help, this brought my English grade up to an A!

    • profile image

      joshphilip 5 years ago

      I didn't know those rules for conversation and do tend to struggle with dialogue in my writing. I'll make sure to do this from now on. Thanks for the tips!

    • profile image

      unknown 6 years ago

      it helped a lot. thanks!^^

    • raxit02 profile image

      raxit02 6 years ago from Amsterdam, The Netherlands

      Yes, this article has been helpful in understanding the requirements. As I am not a native English-speaker, I often do a list of mistakes. Writing here is helping me extensively.

      Thank you for sharing these meaningful insights.

      Take care,

      Nick

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
      Author

      Virginia Kearney 6 years ago from United States

      Just a reminder that I need to proofread one last time before publishing. Thanks for catching my error so I could correct it!

    • profile image

      THAT Mary Ann 6 years ago

      I believe it is,

      "The 'Big tears...' sentence is description, so there aren't any quotation marks around it."

      as long as we are being grammatical...