Punctuation Rules for Conversation Quotation with Examples

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!

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

4 Punctuation Rules

1. Indent each time a new person speaks.

2. Make it clear who is speaking.

3.Quotation marks show speech starting and stopping.

4. No new paragraph is same person talks.

5. Use Variety

6. Long Quotations are Special

Rule 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. That means if the person only speaks a word or short phrase, you still need to indent. Here is an example:

George said, "Jane, did you hear that noise last night?"

"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.

Rule 2: Make it Clear Who is Speaking

In many dialogues, you will be including the name of the person speaking. However, if you are doing a short dialogue with just two people, you don't always need to say the name of the speaker every time. Keep in mind that the rule is that the reader should not get confused, so it helps to include the speaker occasionally. Here is an example:

"Are you awake, George?" asked Jane.


"I said, are you awake?

"I am now."

"What does that mean?"

"It means, you woke me up!" muttered George angrily.


"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

Rule 3: Quotation Marks Show Speech Starting and Stopping

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.

Rule 4: No New Paragraph if Same Person Talks

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."

Rule 5: Use Variety

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

happy words
question words
angry words
sad words

Adjectives for Conversation: How Something is said

cautiously said
boastfully said
emotionally said
how it is said

Rule 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.

Quotation Marks only on Start and End of long 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.

How to Improve Dialogue Writing

Writing Conversation Effectively

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!

Dialogue and Children

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

Great Dialogue Example

Final Punctuation of Conversation Tips

  • Put quotation marks around what is actually said.
  • Punctuation of conversation needs to help the reader "see" the conversation and know who is speaking when.
  • 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.
  • If more than two people are speaking, you may need to tell the reader who is talking more often.
  • Let someone else read the dialogue and mark who is speaking if you aren't sure it is clear.

My final tip? If you ever encounter a punctuation problem you don't know how to solve, you 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.

How to Use Dialogue Effectively in Writing

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Comments 11 comments

jlpark profile image

jlpark 15 months 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.

Shade1 2 years ago

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

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 2 years ago from United States Author

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.

Shade1 2 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...


"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

VirginiaLynne 2 years ago from United States Author

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

Guest 2 years ago

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

joshphilip 4 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!

unknown 5 years ago

it helped a lot. thanks!^^

raxit02 profile image

raxit02 5 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,


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 5 years ago from United States Author

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

THAT Mary Ann 5 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...

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

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