Punctuate dialogue the correct way

A dialogue refers to a conversation between two or more persons; a verbal or written exchange of ideas and opinions.

In writing, dialogue can serve many purposes, such as:

  • Breaking the monotony of narration.
  • Providing aesthetics in writing and page layout with its indents, quotation marks and other punctuation.
  • Revealing your characters’ habits, dispositions, thoughts, upbringing, etc.
  • Introducing dynamism and drama in the story.
  • Making a point in a simple way, avoiding long lines of text.
  • Engaging the readers’ attention.
  • Providing information that may not be found elsewhere in the story.
  • Creating atmosphere and mood in the writing.

Definitely dialogue in writing has many benefits but many writers fail in properly punctuating it. In this article, you will learn a few simple rules which will help you in your dialogue writing.

But before we get into these rules and some examples, we must note that differences exist between the American and the British styles in writing dialogue. As a writer, you must write for your intended audience, choose the particular style and stick with it. Do not alternate between the American and the British or else you will confuse your readers.

In this article, we will follow the American style of punctuating dialogue.

Rule 1 

Use quotation marks to start and end a dialogue


“Where is your car?”

The sentence starts with open quotation marks and ends with closed quotation marks.


Rule 2 

Dialogue must start with a capital letter


Barry said, “I do not have time today.”


Rule 3 

If a tag line interrupts a dialogue, then start the second part in lowercase


“Give me the cake,” Jenny said, “and don’t forget the ice-cream as well.”


Rule 4 

When using interior dialogue, such as a thought running through a person’s mind, use italics instead of quotation marks


I hope he notices me, the girl thought.


Rule 5

Use single quotation marks for a quote within a quote


“And he saith unto them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.'”

The example is a verse from the Bible. Notice that the sentence starts with double quotation marks because it is a direct quote, but at the point where Jesus speaks, single quotation marks are used. Then the sentence ends with closed single and double quotation marks.


Rule 6

Use a new line to indicate a change of speaker


“What time will you be going to the library?” asked James.

“I am not sure,” Mary replied.


Rule 7

Punctuation marks go inside of the quotation marks


“I have a gift for you,” Katy said. “Do you want it now?”

Notice that the comma and the question mark are placed before the quotation marks.


Rule 8

Indent dialogue as a new paragraph


     While on my way to school this morning, I saw two girls looking very worried. I sensed that they needed help. They kept staring at me as though they wanted to ask a question. I walked over to them, hoping to find out what was wrong.
     “Good morning ladies. How are you?” I asked
     “Good morning,” one of the girls replied, “we are new to this area. I think we are lost.”


Rule 9

If a dialogue is interrupted with a thought or action, use an em dash


“You are bitter”—she stomped her feet on the floor—“and I don’t wish to see you again.”


Rule 10

When the dialogue is abruptly cut off by the second speaker, use the em dash.


“I was planning to do it—”
“Planning? This should have been completed since last week.”


Dialogue writing is exciting. With the foregoing tips, you will be on your way in improving your dialogue writing. If you would like to learn more about punctuating dialogue and improving your grammar skills, then you should get a copy of Common Errors In Writing. This textbook is user-friendly and it will perfect your editing and your writing.